May 7, 2020 Sale of liquor in State-owned TASMAC outlets in Tamil Nadu began on Thursday after a gap of 44 days following a series of lockdowns following outbreak of Covid pandemic.
The shops were opened all over the State except in Chennai because of an alarming spike in the number of cases. The Government made it clear that even in the other areas, liquor would not be sold in hotspots.
Contrary to fears expressed by Cassandras like DMK president M K Stalin that opening of liquor of shops would lead to stampede and hasten community transmission and it would add to the woos of already distressed poor, tipplers stood in mile- long queues before shops and maintained social distance wherever possible.
However the government advisory to sell liquor to different age groups at different time slots was not observed. To avoid crowding, the Government said citizens above 50 should be allowed to buy first from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. followed by those between 40 and 50 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and those under 40 from 3 p.m to 5 p.m.
However, people of all age groups stood in line. As they were orderly, police did not make an issue. Even women stood in queue, obviously to buy for their husbands too old to stand in queue.
In places like Cuddalore, where even a couple of hooch deaths were reported, a few enthusiasts burst crackers and distributed sweets. This despite an alarming jump in new cases following retail traders’ return from Covid hotspot and Vegetable wholesale market Koyembedu .
Police put up bamboo barricades for a stretch of a few kilometers to enable buyers to stand in orderly queues. They followed all instructions, carrying aadhar cards and other ID proofs, and some even followed the order of the district administration and carried umbrellas! And all wore face masks.
Shop keepers had hand sanitisers ready and they restricted sale to a full bottle to each user.
Contrary to fears, the extended shutdown of liquor shops did not lead to any major rise to illicit distillation though some addicts tried home- made concoctions through recipes downloaded from the Internet.
Regular bootleggers tried illicit distillation only to find the police smashing up their pots and vats.
As a cobbler said:” For 40 days we waited. And the Government has rewarded us by hiking the price of liquor”.
During prohibition in Tamil Nadu, booze lovers used to go to Puducherry. In a reversal of roles, the Union Territory closed its borders to prevent those from Tamil Nadu selling the liquor to friends across the border as the Union Territory had closed the shops to contain the spread of the virus.
Anticipating this reverse flow, Minister in the Puducherry Government and MLA from Yenam enclave Malladi Krishna Rao demanded that shops be reopened in line with the decision of Tamil Nadu.
Congress Chief Minister V Narayanaswamy, however, wanted to keep the shops shut till the epidemic was brought under control though the numbers are not high.
Unlike in Tamil Nadu, prohibition was never an issue in Puducherry. And it closed its borders with Tamil Nadu as the number of cases is nearly 5,000 and visitors may spread the infection to the Union Territory.
As was to be expected, the DMK and its allies held black flag demonstrations outside their homes to protest the opening of liquor shops in Tamil Nadu. In view of prohibitory orders and lockdown in force, they avoided public demonstrations which are in any case not allowed
The DMK president M K Stalin took out his readymade black shirt and black trousers from the closet and came out of his Alwarpet house in Chennai with a black flag. With him were his wife Durga, son Udhayanidhi Stalin and a few party men. They chanted slogans for 15 minutes and dispersed.