Little India riot: Shops worry about impact of liquor ban

SINGAPORE - Liquor store owners in Little India are apprehensive about their future, now that a temporary ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the district will be imposed.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran announced on Monday evening that the ban will apply this weekend for now, following a riot that broke out along Race Course Road on Sunday, as a "first step to stabilise the situation".

The details of the ban, such as the time and geographical area it will cover, will be worked out by the police, Mr Iswaran had said in response to media queries.

Many residents in the area, who have long complained about the noise and overcrowding on Sunday nights and mess that foreign workers often leave behind, told The Straits Times that they welcomed the move.

Accountant Nisa Mohamaed Maideen, 23, said: "After all that has happened, a little peace and quiet this Sunday will be a great relief."

For many liquor store owners, however, the ban will mean a drop of as much as 25 per cent in this month's takings - since most bottles are sold on Sundays, when foreign workers flock to Little India to unwind.

"I sell almost nothing on weekdays, about 100 bottles of McDowell's (a popular whisky brand among workers) on Saturday and at least 1,000 on Sunday," said Mr Kailasam Sadhasivam, 41, who co-owns New Arasi Trading along Chander Road.

"But what to do? Government said so, I must follow."

Instead of a ban, he said he hopes the authorities will stick to their earlier proposal to restrict the number of hours during which alcohol can be sold.

"My worry is that this ban will become permanent. It's not just about decreased takings, but the down payment for the rental and liquor stock. And what am I going to do for a job after that?" said the O-level holder, who added that the real problem appears to lie with the proliferation of liquor stores in the last year.

 

Mr Martin Pereira, chairman of Tekka Residents' Committee, noted that about four liquor stores have sprung up this year so far. Altogether, there are at least nine such shops along Chander Road alone, he said.

Other liquor store owners say that the ban should not be a blanket one.

Ms Irene Yeo, who has managed Yeo Buan Heng Liquor Shop in Chander Road for almost 40 years, said her customers are mostly locals and tourists who buy hard liquor like vodka.

"The construction workers prefer Indian whisky and brandy, which I have few bottles of," she said. "If everybody cannot sell, all the liquor shops here will close.

"And if workers don't drink in Little India, they'll just find some place else to go. "

Mr Nalla Thumbi Puhazhanti, owner of Nila Enterprises, said: "I am very angry with those who drink too much and fight every weekend. Not everyone is like this, but now everyone has to pay."

It is not just liquor shop owners in the area whose business will take a beating - restaurants have expressed concerns as well.

"Our drink receipts can amount to $1,000 on a Sunday. But it affects food sales too - our Singaporean and foreign customers want to eat and drink at the same time," said Mr Martin Pun, manager of New Everest Kitchen in Chander Road.

Even Mr Rajagopal Santhankrishnan, manager of Aravind's Curry which does not serve alcohol, thinks business will be hit badly by a long-term ban. "If the drinks stop, there will be no one here. Little India will die."

Ms Denise Phua, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, which Little India falls under, has applauded the temporary ban. She has been pushing for tougher measures on alcohol consumption and sale in the area for the last two years.

"My residents have always been supportive of (a ban) as it reduces one appeal factor for non-residents, including foreign workers, to come to the vicinity," she said.

Clarifying that the ban is not a "cure all", she said she was "nonetheless very pleased that MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has made this decisive first move".

rachelay@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Yeo Sam Jo


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