Kochi: Tipplers scouting for premium liquor won't be disappointed as the Kerala State Beverages Corporation Limited (BEVCO) and Consumerfed outlets have been ordered to stock them up in adequate quantities.
However, there would be less of beer stocks as per a decision taken to augment revenue especially through liquor sales during the upcoming Onam festival season.
The higher officials have given oral directions to BEVCO and Consumerfed retail outlets to stock up on relatively higher-priced IMFL bottles.
In the coming days, expensive liquor would be stocked up on a large scale in the State outlets. McDowell, Honey Bee, Royal Arms etc are mostly bought by the middle-class drinkers.
The demand for cheap liquor is mostly met by the Jawan brand of the government. There is only namesake procurement of anything priced below these spirits.
As Jawan is available only in one-litre bottles, the retail selling of the same through bars can generate more revenue.
Already, there is a severe shortage of cheap brands such as My Choice, Malabar House, Mood Maker and Jamaican. For the past six months liquor outlets across Kerala reported severe shortage of low-priced Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL).
Honey Bee and Mc Dowell brands are much sought after in the districts of Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram. In Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kollam region, OPR and Jawan find a good market.
The situation is such that those who stand in the queue for long realise that cheap brands are not in stock on reaching the counter and are forced to go for the fake or expensive ones.
Excise department statistics
Of the total IMFL consumers, 63 per cent consume cheap liquor; the total sales include 32 per cent brandy and the rest put together constitutes 5 per cent, reveals Excise department statistics.
The data indicates that the BEVCO revenue is not affected even as there is a scarcity in the choice of the majority, due to the steep rise in prices of other brands.
Half-litre bottles are mostly sold in the liquor market in Kerala, while in Tamil Nadu, pint and quarter bottles are more in demand.
Excise data also points out that liquor consumption has come down by about 33 per cent over the past 4 years in a phased manner. However, the cause for the same is still debated.
The move to push costly brands may adversely affect 63 per cent of the total alcohol consumers in Kerala who depend on low-priced spirits.
Those who rely on brandy too may find fewer options as expensive fare, mostly whisky, take up the shelves.
The Excise Department and the Intelligence wing have apprehensions that this move may provide ample opportunity for the spurious IMFL lobby which has grown like a parallel market.
With many incidents of illicit liquor seizures in various places, the officials consider it a clear indication of the growing spurious liquor lobby which may thrive during Onam.
While most alcohol consumers still struggle to buy even ordinary liquor owing to the economic crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of ‘cheap items’ at State-run outlets may force many of them to look for ‘fake’ options.
It is being hinted that spurious IMFL reaches the State on a large scale from Delhi, Mumbai, and Goa. This is besides the spurious liquor manufacture using the spirit in many parts of the State.
Shortages fuel demand for spurious stuff
The Excise and Intelligence report indicated that the manufacture and sale of spurious foreign liquor during COVID times increased to more than 20 per cent of the total liquor market share.
Even after the regulations were lifted and the market became active, there has been no respite in the sale of spurious alcohol.
Licensed manufacturers and breweries maintain that the dip in the availability of spirit has caused the shortage in the manufacture of IMFL.
However, not many buy this claim. Private breweries say it is not feasible to manufacture liquor for BEVCO rates using the highly-priced spirit.
10 big gangs
Ten gangs are reportedly into manufacturing and handing over spurious liquor as good as the original in the Southern districts, as per a piece of unofficial information.
These gangs are mostly based in Ernakulam, Palakkad, and Thrissur.
Officials say, such gangs are relatively less in the northern districts as there is enough liquor reaching the State by crossing the borders.
Spurious liquor manufacture and sales were rampant in the second wave of COVID much more than that during the first lockdown.
The bars remaining closed continuously for a long period and the regulations in the BEVCO outlets largely helped the spurious liquor lobby.
The licenses of 15 bars being revoked and cases charged against them was an unprecedented action by the department, then.
Recently, the department had conducted massive raids on the bars to check spurious foreign liquor sales.
Fake vies with original
Spurious liquor bottles that look as good as the BEVCO bottles, with duplicate hologram seals and numbers being made available by the lobby.
Officials say, by verifying the seal, hologram and number, the outlet can be identified for the original BEVCO bottles.
However, the lack of devices and facilities to check and identify spurious liquor at a district level remains a limitation for the department.
It takes months to get the test reports of the seized liquor from the Centre for Development of Imaging Technology.
The spurious liquor lobby started making duplicate holograms and seals after realising that even habitual drinkers do not buy liquor without the seal and hologram. Hologram seals are reportedly brought from Bengaluru.
Nowadays, bootleggers are not much into manufacture, bottling and distribution of spurious IMFL within Kerala.
Instead, there are groups in other States who manufacture, bottle the fake IMFL with hologram seal and number and hand it over, if one can invest money, provide space (a building), with water and electricity to them.
The excise intelligence wing had reported that this ‘BOT’ (Build-Operate-ransfer) system is happening in certain parts of Kerala on a smaller scale.
With one litre of spirit, 4 litres of fake foreign liquor can be manufactured on the sly.
The person who is ready to pay can get any brand of foreign liquor manufactured and handed over as good as the original. The spirit required would be procured by the gang itself. If needed, they will also help with the distribution of the fake liquor.
The kingpin of such a gang which was nabbed in Aluva earlier was a former excise officer who was terminated from service.
Rate of return
Only Rs 5,000 is needed to manufacture a case (18 bottles) of fake liquor and it can be sold for more than Rs 12,000.
For the person who invests, the profit margin per case is about Rs 7,000. If the facility is good enough, up to 150 litres (20 cases) can be manufactured at a time in one centre.
The condition set by the spurious manufacturers is that those who look for retail sales must buy at least 5 cases. Spurious foreign liquor is mostly transported along with other consignments.
Recently, 3,600 spurious rum bottles were seized by the Excise department from a milk truck.
The Excise department plans random checking for spurious liquor at the district level. In view of the Onam season, border squads would also be deployed at the State borders with the cooperation of the Police.