In a bid to woo tourists to this militancy-infested region in the Himalayas, the Indian government has decided to get a liquor shop opened at Srinagar International Airport in the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Airports Authority of India invited e-tenders in September – seeking bids from the potential players to run a duty-paid liquor shop at the airport – with the lowest bid of Rs 200,000 per month. October 16 was the deadline for the bidding.
Official sources said around 50 firms have shown interest to run the venture at the airport that caters to some 20 flights or 3500 passengers a day. The outlet is scheduled to start operations from January 1, 2018. Director Srinagar airport Sharad Kumar, while confirming the development told Asia Times: “All the famous and good quality liquor brands will be available for sales.”
Referring to the prevalent rise in violence in the trouble-torn region, Kumar said that the last two years remained “bad for tourism sector” in the valley. “We hope that by providing this facility we can attract more and more tourists. Otherwise there are only a few liquor shops in Kashmir. But here it’ll be available in safe and secure environment and will give a boost to tourism,” Kumar added.
He, however, clarified that no boozing would be allowed at the airport. “They can only buy it and carry it along but you cannot drink at the airport as it won’t be like a bar.”
Seen as preferred tourist-destination in the Indian subcontinent –Kashmir has shown need for good quality liquor. But then, liquor equally continues to be tabooed in this only Muslim majority state of India.
The entire Valley has only four liquor shops and a dozen odd bars limited to a few high-end hotels and golf courses. But the conservative forces including social and religious organizations have been fighting for a ban. Some of the groups even moved court with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a ban on liquor sales in line with states like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native Gujarat.
While the High Court had sought the state’s response in June 2016, the state government ruled-out a ban on sale and consumption of liquor. The state’s Finance Minister Dr Haseeb A Drabu said: “People should decide what they ought to do, we can’t force our will on them.” Subsequently in March 2017, the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janta Party alliance updated the policy for liquor sales.
Interestingly, despite demand for a ban, the state is witnessing an upward trend in the sale and consumption of liquor. Official figures reveal that at least 219,718 bottles of different varieties of liquor was sold in J&K in 2015-16. Around 169,161 bottles were sold in the state in 2014-15. In 2013-14, around 153,563 bottles were sold.
Liquor-sale is one of the biggest revenue generators for the state. The government realized Rs 5.3 billion revenue from liquor sales in 2015-16 compared to Rs 4.6 billion in 2014-15. In 2013-14, the department collected a revenue of Rs 4.3 billion from liquor sales in the state.
Around three decades ago, liquor vends were closed in Kashmir after ‘Allah Tigers’ a militant outfit issued a blanket ban on its sale and consumption, soon after the armed insurgency erupted in the region.
The armed outfit had even ransacked the liquor shops forcing all of them to close down instantly. However, a few of them have reopened in the “high security” areas and continue to operate since.