Little India MPs seek stricter alcohol rules

Shopowners in Little India whose business has suffered support idea

Crowds drinking 
at the stairway and spilling out to
the void deck at a block of flats in Chander Road in Little India.
Crowds drinking
at the stairway and spilling out to
the void deck at a block of flats in Chander Road in Little India.

The MPs from the wards in Little India are pushing for even tougher measures in response to the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) proposal to implement alcohol-free zones in the area.

And they have the support of shopowners in the affected area, who just a year ago were dead set against any such law.

MHA is seeking public views on two proposed rules: banning alcohol consumption in common areas like void decks and pavements, and limiting the hours during which stores can sell alcohol.

In recent years, MPs and residents have raised concerns about the problems of public drinking.

One affected place is Little India - a popular hangout for construction workers. Long-time resident R.P. Ramalingam said: "I can't go out on Sundays and my relatives don't want to come here. There are bottles everywhere and the smell of urine."

Ms Denise Phua, an MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, which includes Little India, told The Straits Times it is important for the Government to "take a bold stand on the matter".

She said previous MHA tactics like counselling have not worked as they required time and many workers in the area are transient. She added that licences for liquor stores should not be given out if they are near a residential zone.

Fellow Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP and Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew agreed there should be a limit to the number of booze stores nearby. In addition, Ms Phua wants more of her residents' flats ring-fenced - preventing workers from loitering. She is also helping to plan longer patrol routes for auxiliary police officers - first deployed to the area in 2009 - and suggesting that a separate building be used for workers to convene at or drink.

Nightlife in Little India is non-existent on weekdays but on weekends, its streets overflow with foreign workers.

When ST visited on a Sunday night, the streets were packed with workers, most of whom sat in groups drinking beer, even around the residential blocks. Just metres away, about a dozen auxiliary police officers from Certis Cisco watched the buzz warily.

The crowds start at Chander Road, where at least eight stores sell 175ml bottles of whiskey and brandy for $8.50 to $17.50.

A shop assistant at Arasi Trading who wanted to be known only as Mr Durai, estimates that at least 1,000 workers walk through his doors on Sunday nights.

Owners like Mr Gopal Nand, from Gall & Gall Minimart, think that having no-alcohol zones will actually be better for business.

"On a normal day, there's almost no business - people come only on weekends," he said. "But we could be getting more business from the people who avoid us because of the rowdiness."

While tolerating problems such as fighting and vomiting, business has fallen by 30 per cent since last year. He plans to convert his store to one selling phones, adding: "It'll be much more peaceful."

However, workers are wondering where they will go for weekend entertainment. Construction worker Raj Balan, 22, said: "I hope they don't let the noisy ones take away (the space from) the rest of us who are just trying to relax."

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