Kerala's love affair with alcohol

Original article at BBC:

Some Excerpts:

People in the southern state of Kerala are the heaviest drinkers in India, and sales of alcohol are rising fast. The BBC's Soutik Biswas examines why.
Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in India

Jacob Varghese says he began drinking when he was nine years old, sipping on his father's unfinished whisky and brandy in glass tumblers.

Kerala is India's tippler country. It has the highest per capita consumption - over eight litres (1.76 gallons) per person a year - in the nation, overtaking traditionally hard-drinking states like Punjab and Haryana.

Also, in a strange twist of taste, rum and brandy are the preferred drink in Kerala in a country where whisky outsells every other liquor.

Alcohol helps in giving Kerala's economy a good high - shockingly, more than 40% of revenues for it's annual budget come from booze.

A state-run monopoly sells alcohol - the curiously named Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) - runs 337 liquor shops, open seven days a week. Each shop caters on average to an astonishing 80,000 clients.

This fiscal year the KSBC is expected to sell $1bn (£0.6bn) of alcohol in a state of 30 million people, up from $12m when it took over the retail business in 1984.

Similarly, revenues from alcohol to the state's exchequer have registered a whopping 100% rise over the past four years.

The monopoly is so professionally run that consumers can even send text messages from their phones to a helpline number to record their grievances.

"If we delay opening any of our shops by even five minutes, clients send us text messages saying that they are waiting to buy liquor," says KSBC chief N Shankar Reddy.

That's not all. There are some 600 privately-run bars in the state and more than 5,000 shops selling toddy (palm wine), the local brew. There is also a thriving black market liquor trade.

The jolly and convivial Mr Balakrishnan, 67, says his father "initiated" him into drinking when he was four.

Written on March 12, 2010