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New measures on alcohol sales announced

Raft of 'calibrated' steps gets mixed response from businesses in area

[SINGAPORE] A raft of "calibrated" measures unveiled by the police yesterday regarding alcohol sales and consumption in Little India got a mixed response from businesses in the area.

The measures will be in place for up to six months until the Committee of Inquiry (COI), established by the government to look into the Dec 8 riot, has completed its work and made its recommendations.

Firstly, alcohol consumption in public areas of Little India will continue to be banned on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays, the police said.

For weekends, the ban on alcohol consumption in public places will start from 6am on Saturdays and end at 6am on Mondays. For public holidays and eve of public holidays, it would start at 6am on the eve and end at 6am the day after the public holiday.

As for the sale of alcohol, the 134 liquor and convenience stores in the zone holding retail and wholesale licences will be allowed to sell alcohol, but only from 6am until 8pm on weekends, eve of public holidays and on public holidays. In addition, another 240 establishments with public house or beer house licences will be allowed to sell alcohol at all times. But customers are only permitted to drink within the premises, and any consumption outside is a breach of the ban.

The police said licensees found to allow take-away of alcohol or serving alcohol outside their premises will risk losing their liquor licence.

At a press conference yesterday, deputy commissioner of police T Raja Kumar said: "We are continuing with the ban because there is good reason to believe that alcohol consumption and intoxication in public areas had contributed to the behaviour of the mob and aggravated the situation. Curbing public drunkenness is an important component of measures aimed at restoring calm and security in the Little India vicinity."

Mr Kumar explained that since these shops sell alcohol for "take away", allowing such outlets to sell until the late hours will adversely affect police efforts to enforce the ban on public consumption. Enforced under the Public Order (Preservation) Act, the measures will cover the same area affected by the blanket ban of alcohol consumption and sales last weekend.

Some owners of retail and wholesale outlets in the area felt hard done by. Krishnan Raju, owner of liquor store Tasmac Mart on Chander Road, said the peak period of his sales was after 8pm on weekends and public holidays as "most of the workers come to Tekka only late in the evening after their work". With the onset of the new measures, he expects his takings to fall from $4,500 to about $1,500, similar to what he makes on a weekday. To make up for the shortfall, Mr Raju said he may be forced to renegotiate with his landlord to reduce his monthly rental of $8,000 or shed staff.

Restaurants and bars BT spoke to said they were confident they could abide by the new rules, with some even saying that they stood to gain from the measures. Ajay Maddila, director of Zsofi Tapas Bar on Dunlop Street, said the 8pm cut-off for sales of alcohol could benefit outlets like his as customers may seek alternatives to alcohol in the area. He expects this to boost his sales by 10-20 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will resume operation of the 25 Little India Bus Services run by private bus operators from this Sunday, but will start with half of the number of scheduled buses. In addition, the buses will operate from 2pm to 9pm, instead of 2pm to 11pm previously.

Mr Kumar also addressed media queries pertaining to allegations of assault of the accused rioters while they were in police custody. He said the police took "a very serious view of all complaints made by accused persons against our officers, and we will investigate every such complaint thoroughly". He added: "If criminal charges are disclosed, the police will not hesitate to take criminal action against the officer concerned. However. if the allegations are found to be false, appropriate action, in accordance with our laws, will be taken against any persons who have furnished false information to the police, which is an offence under the Penal Code Section 182."

Touching on the issue of due process and the repatriation of 53 workers for their role in the riot, Mr Kumar said there were laws in place to repatriate people who are assessed to have posed a threat to Singapore's safety and security.