--BY MADAN LAMSAL
How many times should we rack our brains thinking about the mess in Sri Lanka, the dirty politics in Pakistan, and our own politics and economy, which, sadly though, are on the same path as that of Sri Lanka and Pakistan? Or let our blood boil with the daily dose of news on the ministers of which countires barged into the (bed)rooms of our ministers, Prime Minister and President without any warning and which political parties they pressed to unite; and which countries told Nepal to do ‘this’ and not ‘that’? Or listen to the boring talk of the OAG which has been saying, every year for the past many years, that government arrears have been rising dangerously? Or keep watching the fight between the bull and the bear in the share market?
Instead of all this, let’s talk about chilled beer and liquor today!
There is a worrying negativity in all other sectors these days baring one sector. Though the country is dependent on other countries for almost everything else, it is giddily heading towards self-sufficiency in liquor and beer. Though the government has failed to attract any significant amount of FDI, it has been issuing licenses to new liquor manufacturers as if the licenses were movie tickets! Just a few years ago, there were only eight distillaries in the country. Today, there are 150 to 200 of them apart from thousands of homemade breweries across the country. The number of beer producers, too, has been increasing. If the small-scale industrial units, too, are to be considered, then it’s safe to say that some 1,500 licenses have already been distributed!
The result is about 50 new brands of beer and other forms of alcoholic drinks have been entering the Nepali market annually. Not to forget the ‘one home, one local liquor’ situation in the country! For some time now, the provincial governments have been talking about branding the local hooch as well. This is good news for those who drink and also for the government which collects the tax.
It’s no longer a secret that rivers of beer and other alcoholic drinks flow in the ubiquitous hotels and resorts which have seemingly sprung up on each and every one of our hills and hillocks. Those who rue how made-in-Nepal products never reach the far-flung villages even though the connecting roads have been built should find some solace in the fact that tons and tons of beer and other alcoholic drinks reach those villages today without much hassle! You won’t find a single hill or mountain in the country today without its fair share of empty bottles of beer and other forms of liquor scattered here and there! The trucks that reach our villages carrying imported foreign goods return with empty liquor and beer bottles! Isn’t this something to be happy about!!
Another matter of happiness for the lovers of beer and other forms of liquor is that in Nepal you can choose and gulp down from a list of different kinds of liquor imported from Asia, Europe, Australia and the Americas. Even the children under 18 can buy them without showing the proof of being adult. And, interesting part is that the parent and government encourage them to drink in the name of culture. That is precisely why our immediate neighbours tend to sneak across the border just to guzzle up as much liquor as they can take. We Nepalis have been drinking imported liquor worth billions of rupees annually and the logic behind this is simple – why drink only made-in-Nepal liquor! So, drinking Australian and American beer and Scottish whisky in the evening has become our habit.
Available statistics show that Nepal imported liquor worth more than Rs 2.5 billion in the last fiscal year alone. Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the country was importing liquor worth more than Rs 3 billion every year. Nearly a dozen world famous brands of beer and whiskeys such as Warsteiner, Budweiser, Carlsberg, Tuborg, Signature, Royal Stag etc are being produced in Nepal itself. There is a beer and liquor brand named after each famous mountain and even the national symbols. The beer and liquor industry has also brought in the latest technologies and created employment on a large scale. Who says beer is bad, despite all this?
Not only has the consumption of domestically produced liquor increased but it is also being exported these days. Because there are Nepalis abroad as well! Why would Nepalis known for enjoying a drink or two quit drinking just because they have gone abroad? Until a few years ago, Nepalis would take a few bottles of beer and other liquors as gifts while visiting their relatives and friends abroad. Now they have formally started exporting it! Nepal exported 400 thousand litres of liquor worth Rs 80 million to various countries in fiscal year 2021/22. In the past, people from only the Raj Durbar would keep going abroad. Today almost everyone from the Singha Durbar to far-flung village goes abroad. Why would liquor including beer be behind in this race? Different brands of beer, whisky, rum and wine such as Old Durbar, Black Chimney, 8848, Gorkha, Yeti, Nepal Ice Beer, Khukri Rum etc too are going abroad!
Only last year, Nepali drinks were exported to Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, America, and Britain. The ‘Dandaghare wine’ produced in Pokhara was being exported to nearly a dozen countries including Japan and the Gulf countries in the past. It’s not known if it still gets exported or it has stopped.
Thus, even if Nepal becoming self-reliant in other goods is just nice talk that sounds pleasant to the ears, we can immediately become fully self-reliant in beer and other liquors! They say domestic production meets only 70 percent of the demand at present. Liquor producers say the spirit which is essential to produce liquor can be better produced in Nepal than in other countries. The government is expected to listen to this- that is once the drink has stopped flowing!
What’s more, the government has tried to stop the free flow of alcohol by fixing the time. The government says alcohol can only be sold from 10 AM to 10 PM. This isn’t fair. Can it stop people drinking after 10 PM or before 10 AM? It doesn’t stop the production of alcohol but stops one from buying alcohol before or beyond a certain time! Why the restrictions on only buying it? When those who can buy it want to buy it and drink it, why on earth does the government say you cannot buy alcohol before this time and you cannot sell it beyond that time? This is purely something for the market or the buyer and seller or the demand-supply situation to decide! Did the government officials introduce this rule when they were ‘under the influence’? Won’t it collect the tax if they are sold after the stipulated time !
Why have they made liquor so expensive in Nepal? The more expensive it becomes the more will people tend to drink hooch! Don’t our ‘hakim saaps’ know this simple truth? And yes, is there anyone as tolerant as those who drink? Every year, the government increases the tax on liquor and beer, but have those who love to drink uttered a word in protest? No, they haven’t.
Therefore, it’s better if no one looks down upon us Nepalis. Nepal has already entered the age of the statues. They are spending hundreds of thousands of rupees to build the statues of the drunkards, rascals and scoundrels at the squares and other major thoroughfares. Sometimes I feel as if I should drink a lot and just go and stand in the place of a statue forever, for want of doing anything else! Maybe this way, a few hundred thousand rupees will surely reach my hands! Having liquor bar has also become a status symbol of many.
The government cannot even think of surviving without the liquor and beer business. Our ‘hakim saaps’, too, need it. And it has been served to even the gods since time immemorial. My salute to beer which is such a wonderful thing! Hail beer and liquor!! Cheers!!!