Bhubaneswar: Recently inmates of a quarantine centre in Keonjhar district organised a booze party apparently to keep their spirits up. The matter came to light when pictures of their Bacchus-inspired high jinks went viral. Later it came to pass that bottles had been spirited into the building, supposed to be out of bounds for the people of the surrounding areas, by a local bootlegger.
One doesn’t really blame the poor inmates. Being quarantined can be extremely depressing and the mind keeps constantly thinking of ways to beat the blues. And what better way of overcoming the angst and ennui stimulated by the confines of a dreary quarantine centre than gulping down some firewater!
Booze is not such a bad thing after all. Had it been so Odisha government would have kept tipplers thirsty for some more time with lock-down having offered an excellent excuse to shut down liquor shops. In fact, wine shops in our state remained closed for a much longer period than rest of the country. In most of the states these shops opened on May 4 with serpentine queues seen outside them on day one and Bacchus lovers carting away crates of their favorite tipple.
Odisha government, though desperate to fill its depleted coffers with excise revenue, allowed liquor sales only on May 23 and that, too, through the home delivery system with orders to be placed online. The government also imposed 50 per cent special COVID cess on the tipple but it failed to dampen the spirits of booze lovers who have hit the bottle with a vengeance. Unofficial estimates have put the net worth of liquor delivered at the doorstep of people during the first 72 hours of commencement of sales at around Rs 9 crore.
There were also instances of violation of the ban on over-the-counter sale of booze with crowds gathering outside liquor shops in certain areas of the state capital within hours of online sales being permitted. Police had to disperse some of these gatherings and warn shopkeepers against opening their shutters. While for the less educated tipplers the excuse for rushing to the shops was that they did not know how to place orders online the retailers argued that they had to oblige the customers to save their shops from being raided by tipplers who had been deprived of booze for several weeks due to the lockdown.
To make things easy for the technology-challenged people, the state government has asked retailers of IMFL (India Made Foreign Liquor) to display their phone numbers outside shops so that orders could be placed through SMS also. So liquor business is booming again and both government and the drinking public appear to be happy.
For the cash-strapped Odisha government liquor has been a major source of revenue and it was losing heavily due to the restrictions imposed on the sales by the countrywide lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when liquor shops opened in several parts of the country on May 4 with restrictions being relaxed there was no sale of liquor in Odisha as the government was reluctant to take the risk. But now things are more or less back to normal on this front. It is a win-win situation for all. While the state government is suddenly upbeat about achieving its excise revenue targets for the current financial year, thanks to the special COVID fee the tipplers are not complaining either. They want booze at any cost now. That being the prevailing spirit why blame the poor quarantine centre inmates for getting a little high!