Residents happy, but not some businesses

SINGAPORE - Little India residents have welcomed the continuing ban on public drinking on weekends, while restaurants and coffee shops are looking forward to the resumption of alcohol sales as long as it is consumed on their premises.

But owners of provision stores and alcohol shops were left disappointed by the latest measures announced by the police on Wednesday. They said business will continue to suffer as their clientele consists mainly of foreign workers who buy and drink on the spot.

In a relaxation of the absolute ban on alcohol sales imposed last weekend after the Dec 8 riot, convenience and liquor shops in Little India will be allowed to sell alcohol between 6am and 8pm on weekends, when foreign workers normally have their days off.

"But if workers are not allowed to drink here, why would they buy?" said shop assistant Balan Kabilan of Moonshine Enterprise at Chander Road, referring to the ban on public drinking.

"Workers only start coming in after 8pm, so those who want to buy also cannot buy."

Mr S Gohulabalan, vice-chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, said it was "possible some shops won't recover from the ban because they are totally dependent on the sale of alcohol".

Provision shops which also rely on foreign workers for sales said the measures will continue to affect their business negatively.

"You tell foreign workers they still can't drink on the streets - of course they will be scared off," said Sri Sai Mooka Minimart owner Ramesh Kumar. "The only time Singaporeans come in bulk to my shop are during Deepavali and New Year. What am I going to do for the other 363 days?"

Still, the ban on the consumption of alcohol in public areas over a 1.1 sq km area in Little India was given the thumbs up by residents such as businessman Mohamed Neyas, 34, who lives at Rowell Road.

"Last weekend was amazing," he said. "If workers want to buy alcohol and drink somewhere else, or buy vegetables, that is fine. But if they make a scene, the drinking affects us residents."

Sharing the same view was civil servant Castral Goh, who has been living in a block at Buffalo Road for more than a decade. She said that last weekend was "clearly safer for residents".

The 28-year-old said: "The only concern I have is how long they can keep up the strong police presence."

The weekend ban on drinking was also lifted from beer houses and restaurants yesterday.

The chief executive of restaurant The Banana Leaf Apolo, Mr C. Sankaranatha, said he expects customers to return with the "softer" rules. "It will take a week more for people to adjust, but we are a brand name, so I am happy business will go back to normal."

Mr Rohit Razdan, manager of Kashmir restaurant, said the lifting of the ban in restaurants "is the best thing that can happen", adding that "customers don't come here to get drunk, but to enjoy food with a glass of wine".

The new rules will be in place on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays for up to six months, until a Committee of Inquiry set up to look into the riot makes its recommendations. They do not apply on weekdays.

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