Bacchus takes over Maveli’s Onam in God’s Own Country

via VR Jayaraj | Kochi - Daily Pioneer published on September 6, 2009

Onam, the Malayalees’ biggest annual festival, is based on the legend of demon king Mahabali (Maveli), a socialist ruler, but it is wine god Bacchus who is providing the spirit for the celebrations. The liquor sales figures of the season justify this, and these figures keep on climbing every successive Onam. The trend has not been broken this season also.

For Malayalees, this Onam has been one of the most costliest and difficult in the recent times with global recession pushing industrial sectors to a near-freeze, the monsoon rage causing devastation to the agriculture sector and rise in prices of essential commodities including staple food rice making life hard. Still, Keralites spent hundreds of crores of rupees on booze during the festival.

N Shankar Reddy, managing director of Kerala State Beverages Corporation (BevCo), the State owned monopoly liquor supplier, told The Pioneer that the corporation was poised to meet the Onam sales target of Rs 200 crore. With one more day, Saturday, remaining for the close of the 13-day Onam season, BevCo had collected Rs 174.35 crore from booze sales. This achievement has been made despite the fact that the season also included one no-booze day.

A comparison of this figure with the total Onam-Ramadan season turnover till date of the thousands of Government-run special commodities shops is enough to remind the Malayalees about their addiction to booze. The total commodities sales was yet to cross the Rs 430-crore mark, but this also included the figure for rice sales which would not be more than Rs 130 crore. Indeed, Malayalees spend more money on liquor than on rice, their staple food.

However, the Rs 174.35 crore spent by the Keralites on booze during Onam relates to the sale through the 377 retail outlets of the BevCo and the Kerala State Cooperative Consumer Federation. Combined with the liquor sales in the 616 bars and the hundreds of toddy shops thrown in, this figure could grow manifold.

However, the association of bar and restaurant owners does not have the exact figures of their sales but they are generous enough to reveal that the average Onam sales at one bar could be Rs 40 lakh, which works out to a total of another Rs 250 crore “This should shock us. We must consider the fact that the boozers – regular and occasional – do not constitute even 30 percent of the total Kerala population of three crore, but they are spending more money on booze than the amount the entire people spend on food,” said Roy Sebastian, an anti-liquor crusader based in Kochi.

The 13-day Onam booze sales (like the total annual sales) had been witnessing a steady and phenomenal growth in recent years. The festival season of 2007 had brought a turnover of Rs 126 crore to BevCo but this leaped to Rs 167 crore in 2008 Onam season. As per the expectations of the BevCo chief, this is poised to grow to more than Rs 192 crore this season.

From the sales in this season till Thursday, the eleventh Onam day, BevCo had collected Rs 174.35 crore, and the turnover was expected to cross the Rs 190-crore mark when the outlets would close on late Saturday night. Reddy said hitting the target of Rs 200 crore was not difficult judging from the rate of growth in the sales in the past days, but a small difference was possible due to the loss of sales on one day, the September 1 no-liquor day.

The growth was not merely in aggregate sales figures. Thiruvonam, the actual Onam day, which fell on Wednesday this year, saw BevCo collecting Rs 27.58 crore while the collection the same day last year was Rs 15.62 crore. The booze sales on Uthradam, the previous day, last year was worth Rs 22.62 crore but this showed a record jump to touch Rs 34 crore this year.

The growth in booze sales in Kerala is not limited to Onam or Christmas festival season but it keeps on happening from year to year. In 1987-88, the sales volume of IMFL in the State was worth a mere Rs 81.42 crore. Though arrack was still in legal circulation during those times, it would not have made much of a difference. Exactly in 20 years, liquor sales showed an unimaginable leap to Rs 3,669.49 crore, in 2007-2008. And in the very next fiscal, 2008-09, this climbed up again to Rs 4,617 crore.

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