ERNAKULAM: A man trekked through the rolling hills of Kerala's Wayanad some days ago to buy alcohol in a border village located far away in Karnataka. His plan failed as the village by then became a containment zone, shutting down its liquor shops.
His search continued the next day as he walked to a different liquor store in another border village. Before he could reach, someone from Kerala, supposedly skipping home quarantine, got there, which led to forced closure of its shutters too. On the third day of his quest, he asked a friend across the border to get him a bottle, after which he reached the border point, crossed a paddy field and collected his hard-earned bottle from the friend.
Now he hopes that his travails will end as Kerala, which has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in India, on Wednesday rolled out an app, BevQ, to deliver e-tokens for liquor purchase. The app is the state's exit-strategy to open alcohol shops closed due to the lockdown in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. Nobody without e-token booking will be allowed to purchase alcohol, which makes it necessary for many in Kerala.
"It was frustrating, these last few days. It's truly a relief to know about BevQ," said the Wayanad native, who did not want to be named, as he continued to search for a token in the app.
The shutdown of alcohol shops lasted 63 days in Kerala to abide by social distancing norms. It was the longest dry season that hit the state, which consumes over 8 litres per person per day since the lifting of a partial prohibition in 2017. The cash-strapped state earns more than ₹14,500 crore annually from liquor sales.
"The app will be available on Playstore (not available on App Store for now) from Wednesday, 5 pm onwards. 301 (state-run) liquor outlets, 576 bar hotels, and 291 beer and wine parlours will serve alcohol through this system from tomorrow onwards," the state's excise minister TP Ramakrishnan told reporters.
"A 50 paise charge will be collected from customers by the government for back-end expenses to generate tokens. Only five people will be allowed to be in the queue at a time in front of the outlets. If someone makes a booking, he will not be able to make another booking using the same number for the next four days. The bookings will be taken from 6 am to 10 pm. Alcohol sales will be open only from 9 am to 5 pm," he added. The app will also offer an offline facility to generate an e-token by sending an SMS in a specified format to the number 8943389433.
A beta version launched today was downloaded by 20,000 people in just two minutes, said its maker Faircode Technologies, a Kochi-based startup.
If these signs are any indicator, the app is on its way to becoming a part of the state's drinking culture, much like the loaded question familiarly hurled by the drinkers: what's up in the evening?