Discontent brews as Lakshadweep administration plans to allow sale and consumption of alcohol

Additional District Magistrate R Giri Shankar issued a notice on 3 August and solicited the opinions and suggestions of the islanders.

ByGeorge Michael

Published Aug 09, 2023 | 9:30 AMUpdatedAug 09, 2023 | 9:30 AM

Excise regulation bill issued in Lakshadweep seeking public opinion

There are rumblings of discontent on the archipelago. A recent move by the administration of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep to lift the liquor ban on the islands as part of its plan to boost tourism has come in for widespread criticism — and caused disquiet among its mostly Muslim residents.

The administration, under the direct control of the Union government, has published a draft Excise Regulation Bill and sought the views of the public.

A notification by Additional District Magistrate R Giri Shankar on 3 August proposed to allow liquor and solicited opinions and suggestions from residents within 30 days.

While the Lakshadweep Prohibition Regulation of 1979 banned liquor in the archipelago — lying between 200 and 440 km off the Kerala coast and comprising some 100 islands — tourist resorts on Bangaram Island serve alcohol to international tourists.

In response to community requests to preserve their cultural integrity, alcohol sales were prohibited in Lakshadweep in 1979.

There was an attempt to lift the ban in 2021, but the administration backtracked following a public backlash.

The proposed legislation, which would permit liquor sale and consumption on the islands, has sparked widespread anger.

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Excise commissioner for Lakshadweep

The draft Bill has proposed the appointment of an excise commissioner along with support staff to effectively monitor and regulate the sale and consumption of liquor.

It also outlined the formation of an expert board tasked with guiding the administrator on intricate technical and legal matters about the manufacturing, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the archipelago.

Under the provisions of the proposed regulations, the excise commissioner would possess the authority to issue licences or leases for both wholesale and retail manufacturing units, and sales of alcoholic products within designated areas.

Also Read: Travel woes of the mostly Muslim Lakshadweep natives in Kerala

Further, the administration would retain the power to mandate the temporary closure of liquor outlets. However, it has been stipulated that the total number of closure days in a licensing year must not exceed seven days or three consecutive days.

An essential component of the proposal involved the pricing of Indian-made foreign Liquor. The Bill mooted to fix the price at 300 percent more than the most recent selling price. Additional duties would be applied as well, with a 50 percent duty on wine and a 100 percent duty on beer.

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Congress, NCP oppose move

The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have come out against the plan to allow liquor in Lakshadweep.

The National Students Union of India (NSUI), the student arm of the Congress party, strongly objected to the move, asserting that it has the potential to pave the way for the rise of what it termed the “liquor mafia”.

The NSUI has emphasised the importance of keeping the islands free from the influence of alcohol and called upon the general public to express their viewpoints on the matter.

Mohammed Faizal, MP, from the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, too, opposed the proposed Bill. He stated that the issue would be challenged both politically and legally.

“Our culture has thrived in part due to the careful preservation of certain norms, including the regulation of alcohol consumption. Allowing widespread access to alcohol could potentially dismantle our culture that has been followed in our community for generations,” he told South First.

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What about tourism?

When asked about the tourism potential, said alcohol was already available for tourists at the resorts situated on Bangaram Island.

“The administration has taken steps to allow serving of alcohol in the five-star hotels that are being developed. Permitting the unrestricted sale of liquor to the general public is uncalled for,” the NCP leader said,

Hamdulla Sayeed, a former Member of Parliament from the island and Congress leader, expressed his apprehensions regarding the potential consequences of the proposed Bill.

Sayeed pointed out that during the decades of Congress rule, the archipelago remained free from liquor, resulting in fewer instances of crime and violence.

He passionately urged the administration to reconsider the draft legislation, contending that its enactment could disrupt the islands’ normal life and even lead the youth down the path of addiction.