Ten o’clock bar on bars

Kathmandu, November 27

The rumours that the government is planning to rule the country with an iron fist may not be baseless, as plans are afoot to prevent hotels, bars and restaurants from serving alcoholic beverages after 10:00 pm, to bar those who have consumed alcohol from using public transport, and restrict alcoholic beverage manufacturers from hosting sporting events and public shows, like concerts.

If the new executive order, dubbed Control on Production, Sale and Distribution of Alcohol, prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs comes into force, it is expected to rile those who wish to take time-out after office or during weekends, as it will bar hotels, lodges, bars and restaurants from selling alcoholic beverage before 5:00 pm and after 10:00 pm. What’s more, hotels, resorts, lodges, bars and restaurants will not be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages outdoor, meaning alcohol consumption cannot take place in gardens, balconies and terraces.

People can still drink at home but one may not find liquor stores everywhere. The new executive order proposes to limit the number of liquor stores to two in each ward of every municipality, sub-metropolitan city and metropolitan city. Rural municipalities, on the other hand, will be allowed to have only one liquor store in each ward. These liquor stores can sell ‘bottled alcoholic beverages’ between 4:00 pm and 9:00 pm, but no one will be allowed to accept or give a bottle of alcohol as a gift.

“This is a rigid executive order. If it is introduced, the government’s plan to double the flow of foreign tourists by 2020 will never be achieved,” said Pramod Jaiswal, president of the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal.

“So, rather than enforcing this order, it would be better if the government instructs us to shut down our establishments, as it will make it difficult for entrepreneurs like us who are regularly paying taxes to do business,” Jaiswal added.

A 2014 study of the World Health Organisation showed that 27 per cent of Nepali men over 15 and eight per cent of Nepali women over 15 consume alcohol. Studies have also shown that prevalence of alcohol consumption is very high among the urban poor. This is largely because of “stressful situations they come across their lives”, according to an article published in a journal of Nepal Health Research Council. And many of these urban poor consume illegally-made alcohol.

The executive order acknowledges that sales of bootleg trump sale of alcohol produced by licensed firms. But it is mum on controlling production and sale of unlawfully made alcoholic beverages, which is out of the tax net.

Instead, it plans to tighten the noose around legal manufacturers of alcoholic beverages who are regularly paying tax.

The executive order states that manufacturers of alcoholic beverages cannot sponsor sporting events, concerts and other public events. It also proposes to bar liquor manufacturers from advertising their products in media or through hoarding boards, posters and pamphlets. These provisions are expected to reduce economic activities, as liquor manufacturers are one of the biggest spenders on public programmes. They also promote their events through media platforms. A slowdown in economic activities may prove detrimental at a time when the government has not been able to create a favourable investment climate for other sectors to flourish.

“What the government is trying to do does not make any sense, because the order will only promote sale of illegally-made alcohol, which will kill more people,” said Ramesh Prasad Shrestha, president of the Nepal Beverage and Cigarette Industries Association, questioning, “Is the government trying to penalise those who produce alcohol based on its standard? If not why is it doing nothing to control sale of bootleg, while restricting new liquor factories from opening up?”

The government had put a moratorium on opening of new liquor factories around three years ago. The executive order proposes to give continuity to this practice. What is worrying is it also intends to bar those who have already obtained licence from manufacturing alcoholic beverages. The order states that only investors who have already injected over 60 per cent of capital in the new factory will be allowed to produce alcoholic beverages. Such provisions may hit banking institutions that have disbursed Rs 14.5 billion in credit to liquor manufacturers so far, of which Rs 1.2 billion was extended in the first quarter of this fiscal.

“The new executive order has been forwarded to the Cabinet for approval,” Home Secretary Prem Kumar Rai told THT, without elaborating. It will be enforced if the Cabinet gives its nod.

Proposed regulation, in letter and spirit

  • Hotels, bars and restaurants to be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm
  • Hotels, resorts, bars and restaurants to be barred from serving alcoholic beverages outdoor
  • Only two liquor stores to be allowed to operate in a municipality ward
  • Those who have consumed alcohol to be barred from using public transport
  • Liquor stores to be allowed to sell alcohol between 4:00 pm and 9:00 pm
  • People to be barred from accepting or giving alcohol as a gift
  • Liquor producers to be barred from sponsoring sporting events, concerts and other public events
  • Liquor producers to be barred from advertising their products in media or through hoarding boards, posters and pamphlets