Only select outlets witnessed huge crowds however, while other shops only had around 10 customers each
Over 640 liquor outlets belonging to the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) re-opened in Chennai on Tuesday.
Shamiyanas were erected in front of all shops, with barricades placed to ensure physical distancing. The city police had made elaborate arrangements to ensure law and order, and to prevent traffic congestions around the shops.
“In shops on main roads we deployed teams headed by inspectors. In other areas, sub-inspectors headed the teams. They were assisted by personnel from the Armed Reserve and Home Guards,” said a senior police officer. “Circles were drawn to indicate physical distancing norms and barricades were placed to regulate the customers. The tokens were given 50 meters ahead of the shops,” said a police officer.
At the Tasmac shop in Mylapore, customers started walking in to collect their coupons as early as 8 a.m. Hundreds of people were standing in queues at one shop while the police were monitoring them. Thavamani, who walked into the Mylapore outlet, said that all arrangements were in place to ensure physical distancing. “I was not wearing the mask properly. The staff and police chided me,” he said.
At the Chepauk outlet, by 9.45 a.m., 200 coupons were issued but the shutters were down at the shop and the place wore a deserted look. The person-in-charge at this shop said that people came in and collected the tokens and will come back only after the shop opens at 10 a.m.
A Tasmac shop employee in the city said that announcements were continuously made on the public address system to ensure customers wore masks and followed distancing rules. “Unlike the crowd witnessed in districts when Tasmac shops reopened, there is not much of a rush in the city as alcohol bottles were already available in the black market,” he said. Only 27 coupons were given at the shop on GP Road. Those who walked into purchase alcohol at the shop, spent only ₹100-₹150 on an average .
By 11.30 a.m only select outlets in the city witnessed huge crowds, some of them throwing physical distancing to the winds, while all other shops hardly had 5-10 people standing in queues. “When shops opened up in neighbouring districts, people from Chennai went there and bought liquor and sold it within Chennai — that’s one reason why there isn’t much of a crowd at most shops,” said a source in Tasmac.
Meanwhile on Tuesday morning, Rajeshwari Priya of Anaithu Makkal Arasiyal Katchi staged a protest outside a Tasmac shop in Anna Nagar. She condemned the government’s decision to reopen the shops at a juncture when people had lost their jobs due to COVID-19. “I don’t understand the urgency in opening the shops. Other districts were wary of people coming from Chennai as cases were so high,” she said. She courted arrest later and was detained at a wedding hall.
On an average, the Chennai market brings in ₹12 crore to ₹15 crore per day to the State coffers. Tasmac, on an average, sells liquor worth over ₹130 crore to ₹140 crore per day across Tamil Nadu.