Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala's decision to close 730 bars in the state under a new liquor policy has sparked off a sudden interest in toddy, the state's traditional drink.
Toddy tapped in Kerala is available in two varieties - one from coconut trees and the other from palm trees. Toddy tapped from the coconut tree is collected in a mud pot. Due to sediments in the pot, juice collected in four hours gets fermented and turns into toddy, which has an alcohol content of 5-8 percent.
State Excise Minister K. Babu said toddy was a traditional industry and the government was going to give it a fillip, through new policies.
"We will train new people to enter the tapping field. The need of the hour is to come out with a good variety of coconut trees," Babu told IANS.
"We have also planned to improve the facilities in toddy shops by making them more clean. We propose to set up model toddy shops. Discussion with various stakeholders in the toddy industry is currently on," the minister said.
Kerala's new liquor policy allows only 20 five-star hotels in the state to serve liquor. From Oct 2, all Sundays will be dry days. Of the 383 state-owned retail liquor shops, 10 percent will close down each year, paving way for Kerala to achieve complete prohibition by Oct 2, 2023.
However, the policy has been challenged by affected bar owners in the Kerala High Court, which has agreed to hear their plea Sep 18.
The toddy industry had seen a decline for reasons like easy availability of liquor, lack of toddy tappers, not so clean shops and a serious question mark over quality.
But the new liquor policy has come as a blessing in disguise for the industry.
According to the state excise department, there are 5,194 toddy shops across the state of which 815 have closed down. Besides 24,794 toddy tappers, 8,975 people are working in toddy shops.
About 1.5 litres of toddy are collected both in the morning and evening from one coconut bunch. This is available in toddy shops at a price ranging around Rs.50 for a 750 ml bottle.
But in the case of palm toddy, which too is collected in mud pots, in a day the total production is around 40 litres from one bunch. A bottle of palm toddy costs around Rs.40.
"Today, palm trees have virtually disappeared. For palm trees, there is no monetary reward for the owner. Instead every fourth day, the tapper puts up a clean mud pot and we are given fresh toddy which looks like clear water and is very sweet," said Kunjuma Mathew, a 75-year-old homemaker from Kottayam.
"My parents used to say that this is a health drink...," added Mathew, who has been drinking palm toddy for half a century.
Thomas Jacob, a rubber farmer from Pathanamthitta, said: "I used to drink toddy, but when the quality of the toddy dipped dangerously due to adulteration, I shifted to liquor.
"If the government comes up with some policy promoting toddy in a big way, then we actually do not need liquor at all," Jacob said.