Little India alcohol curbs eased, steps to control crowds

Some 240 establishments in Little India and its surrounding areas, including restaurants, were given the all-clear yesterday to sell alcohol this weekend.

But these businesses - which hold public house and beer house licences - cannot let customers consume the drinks outside of their premises, as a ban on public consumption of alcohol remains in place.

Another 134 shops including convenience and liquor shops - which hold retail and wholesale licences - will be able to sell alcohol to customers on a takeaway basis between 6am and 8pm.

The Land Transport Authority also announced that private bus services that ferry workers to Little India on Sundays would resume, but at half the scheduled number for a start.

This is expected to halve the number of workers who use the buses to get to Little India from their dormitories, shrinking the crowd who arrive by buses to about 11,000. All services were suspended last weekend.

Similarly, the police relaxed its alcohol ban in favour of a more "calibrated and sustainable approach", said Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar at a press conference yesterday.

The new rules will be in place on weekends, public holidays and the eves of public holidays for up to six months, until the Committee of Inquiry looking into the Dec 8 riot makes its recommendations.

A ban on the sale and public consumption of booze last weekend acted as a "cooling off" measure after alcohol was identified as a possible factor that fuelled the riot, which left 39 Home Team officers hurt and 25 government vehicles damaged.

Yesterday, the police said the ban helped to restore safety and security in Little India, where foreign workers typically gathered during the weekend to run errands, shop, eat and drink.

But affected businesses in the 1.1 sq km dry zone said sales slumped up to 90 per cent.

A more sustainable approach is needed, said Mr Raja Kumar.

Allowing liquor shops to sell alcohol till the late hours would hamper efforts to enforce the ban on public consumption in the area, he added.

So, instead of an outright ban, the police decided to allow sales up to 8pm.

"The shortening of the retail hours will stop customers from having easy access to alcohol from those outlets during peak crowd periods," he said.

There will also be shorter hours for the private bus services. Instead of running until 11pm, the buses will now stop at 9pm. The measures are aimed at reducing congestion in the area.

The police said it will continue to monitor Little India and keep a strong presence there.

To give foreign workers more options to relax over the weekend, the Ministry of Manpower said it will continue to work with dormitory operators and others to line up activities. More movie screenings are already being organised this weekend.

MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua lauded the new measures, but said more is needed to "counter the root concerns of residents". For example, communal living spaces meant for residents should be reserved for that, and alternative areas for foreign workers found.