Higher density of liquor licensees in Chinatown than in Little India

CHINATOWN has the highest density of licensed liquor retailers among areas where foreign workers congregate - not Little India.

Figures from last year showed that there were 750 liquor licensees per sq km in the Chinese enclave, more than double the 301 in Little India, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot was told on Thursday.

Other foreign worker enclaves such as Geylang and Joo Chiat have 183 and 544 licensees per sq km respectively, said Police Licensing and Regulatory Department director Jessica Kwok.

The question of whether too many liquor licences have been issued in Little India had come up several times during the public hearing, after several witnesses testified that many people among the angry mob were drunk.

Assistant Commissioner (AC) Kwok said there were 331 licensees spread across the 1.1 sq km area in Little India put under the Public Order (Preservation) Act - the highest in absolute terms among the enclaves.

The Act, among other things, restricts public consumption of alcohol on weekends.

The density is seemingly highest in areas near Race Course Road and the 130m Chander Road stretch, where there were nine liquor stores before the riot. There are several blocks of Housing Board flats near those roads.

COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam said he had found "a number of liquor shops in the midst of many HDB housing estates" here.

AC Kwok agreed, but said: "People will want to sell at a place where there will be buyers."

 
 
 
 

Despite the concentration of liquor stores in the area, the crime situation in Little India has remained under control over the years, she said.

In fact, it has improved, with major crime cases falling 32 per cent between 2009 and last year, compared to the 19 per cent dip nationwide.

Likewise bucking the trend was the total number of liquor licensees there, which fell 4.6 per cent from 347 in 2009 to 331 last year. Nationwide, it rose 4 per cent in the same period.

AC Kwok said licences are not issued based on a cap. Rather, applications are assessed individually, taking into account the applicant's suitability and factors like the law and order situation and traffic issues.

As such, no "special measures" have been imposed on liquor consumption in Little India in recent years, unlike in Clarke Quay, where alcohol consumption hours were curtailed last year. The last time a moratorium was imposed in Little India was in 2001, as there were "too many liquor licences" in the area, she said, without citing numbers. This was lifted in 2004.

She said she disagreed with the "presumption" that easy access to liquor induces consumption.

"If, hypothetically, we reduce the number of liquor licences immediately - we halve it - would we see that consumption would be halved correspondingly? I don't think so," she said.

"Maybe there might be some reduction, but to what extent, I am not too sure. Therefore, what might be more effective would be to curtail the liquor licence hours."

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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