Indian state joins drive to stop liquor sales

BHOPAL • India's central state of Madhya Pradesh is the latest to join an expanding number of provinces in the country to stop liquor sales, adding to the woes of distillers and brewers already grappling with a national ban on outlets near highways.

Liquor stores in the state will be closed in phases, the Madhya Pradesh government said in a statement on Sunday, citing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Shops selling liquor in a 5km radius of the Narmada river, revered among Hindus, have been shut from April 1 in the first phase, it said.

The Indian state, with a population close to that of France, will be joining five other provinces in the country that have prohibited alcohol.

The move is a blow to companies, including Diageo-controlled United Spirits and Radico Khaitan, which are already bracing themselves for a drop in sales after India's top court banned liquor stores within 500m of highways.

In a sign of the ruling's arbitrary impact, the bars that fall just outside the 500m range are open.

For the businesses affected, the problem is not so easily solved.

"This is one of the most regressive steps that I've seen," said an investor in a pub forced to go dry. "The Prime Minister is talking about improving the ease of doing business. But first, tell us, can we do business to begin with? What are we telling foreign investors - overnight your investments can go?" said the investor, who asked to remain anonymous.

Liquor outlets will not be allowed to open in residential localities, near educational institutions and places of worship, the Madhya Pradesh government said, without providing details.

Madhya Pradesh will also start a "de-addiction" drive, according to the statement.

While per capita consumption of alcohol in India is among the lowest in the world, hazardous drinking - binge drinking and solitary consumption to the point of intoxication - has become the hallmark and is practised by more than half of Indian drinkers, according to a 2013 report on alcohol marketing by the New Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Indian state joins drive to stop liquor sales'. Print Edition | Subscribe