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Not another bar joke. It wasn’t funny

Booze flows from tap in Kerala but there was no party
Water being pumped out from the well to remove the alcohol that had seeped in

K.M. Rakesh   |   Bangalore   |   Published 05.02.20, 09:39 PM

In Biblical times at Cana in Galilee, water is said to have been turned into wine by higher powers. Earlier this week at Solomon’s Avenue Apartments in Kerala, tap water was turned into ready-to-serve alcohol by a power whose potency cannot be taken lightly.

At Cana, the witnesses considered themselves blessed. In Kerala, the recipients are cursing their luck.

The occupants of the apartments at Thrissur district in north Kerala woke up on Monday morning to a mixture of alcohol and water flowing from their taps.

Some in Kerala, a state that consumes copious amounts of liquor, and the rest of the world may have considered it a tippler’s dream come true but it was a living hell for the 18 families residing in the building and scrambling to go about their business at the start of the week.

“It affected life in the apartment. Children had to skip classes and their parents stayed back because of the lack of water. Since I am the co-owner, I too had to take leave for two days to sort out the issue,” Joshy Maliakkal, co-owner of the building that is controlled by his family trust that has rented it out to 18 families, told The Telegraph.

“Those who think it is fun should experience the situation. We are trying to pump out all the water from the well. But it still reeks of alcohol,” he added.

Initially, the residents had no clue about the source of the liquor flowing from their taps.

An investigation revealed that the well that supplied water to the overhead tanks was reeking of liquor.

Eventually, the residents narrowed down on the reason: a ham-handed effort at disposing of liquor seized by the excise department, which wields considerable clout in the state where liquor had contributed to the government an excise revenue of Rs 14,504.67 crore in 2018-19. To put it in perspective, Bengal, a far bigger state than Kerala, earned Rs 10,554.36 crore in excise in the same year.

Six years ago, excise sleuths had cracked down on Rachana Bar in the Thrissur neighbourhood on the charge of unlawfully storing 6,000 litres of various brands of spirits. Recently a local court ordered the excise department to destroy the liquor. But that threw up a new challenge — where to dump the entire stock.

The department hired labourers to dig a pit in the bar compound adjacent to the apartment complex, and very close to the well. In an operation lasting more than six hours starting 2pm on Sunday, the labourers emptied the bottles in the pit, apparently not realising the liquor would seep into the well.

Maliakkal, the co-owner of the building, said he still could not figure out why the bottles were emptied into a pit so close to the well.

“They could have easily emptied the liquor bottles elsewhere in the bar property of 52 cents (approximately 2,100 square metres). Instead, they ended up causing so much inconvenience to all of us,” Maliakkal said.

In order to placate the residents, the excise department arranged for 5,000 litres of fresh water on Monday.

“The well water is otherwise of good quality and our tenants use it for drinking and washing. But since Monday the occupants have been dependent on erratic water supply that starts only at night,” Maliakkal said.

Ignoring pleas by excise officials, he has filed a police complaint. “The excise officials tried to dissuade me, but I went ahead and filed a police complaint and brought inspectors to the site,” he said.

Maliakkal now plans to approach the district collector and the police commissioner.

Deputy excise commissioner P.K. Sanu admitted the “lapse” on the part of the officials who handled the liquor disposal but clarified that it was an accident and not a deliberate act.

“There was a lapse on the part of the officials who were there that day. But they did not know about the well in the neighbouring property. It was an accident and not a deliberate act,” Sanu told this newspaper.

“I have been told by the circle officer that they are doing everything to pump out the well water that smells of alcohol. We will make sure the water is clean to the satisfaction of the residents,” he added.

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