Friday 27 June 2014

Post-Little India riot: Some shops struggle six months on

Six months after the riot broke out at Little India, residents say they feel safer, but some small businesses are still struggling to stay afloat.
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Jun 2014

[ Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India Riot on 8 December 2013 ]

It has been six months since a riot broke out at Little India. Thanks to better crowd management and the restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area, residents say the area now feels safer and more orderly.

Although the buzz has returned to the streets of Little India on Sundays, it is now quieter after 9pm. One reason is that buses ferrying foreign workers back to their dormitories now leave the area earlier, which is good news for residents.

"They stop drinking by 11pm, and they are quieter now. Last time, they broke bottles at midnight even, then it would wake up the children," said Yoosuf Sha, a resident.

Last December's riot was Singapore's worst public order disturbance in over 40 years. In the aftermath, measures were swiftly put in place to keep the situation under control, such as restrictions to the sale and consumption of alcohol.

"I've done my rounds just before and after the riot and it's always been unanimous. The concerns have always been (on) the sale of alcohol right on the ground floor where residents live, the consumption of alcohol at public spaces such as void decks, carparks, playgrounds and so on,” said Denise Phua, mayor of Central Singapore District and MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

“And so the measures put in place in the last six months were really useful, very relevant, and directly addressed the concerns of my residents."

Little India's vibrancy has mostly been restored as well. However, it has been hard for some of the smaller businesses to recover after the riot, and some have even shut down. Smaller stores - especially those that mainly sell liquor - have been among the first to wind up.

"Certain businesses, those who have not been dependent on liquor business, are back to normal,” said Rajakumar Chandra, chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association.

“I would say at least about 90 per cent or 85 per cent of shops that have lost business from the liquor sales have converted most of the other parts of their shop to sell more provisional items and all that, to see whether sales pick up. At the end of the day, their line of business is for the foreign workers, so they cue their business to that angle."

Ms Phua said that while the business owners' interests must be taken care of, it is crucial for residents' concerns to be heard.

"We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the residents and we need to give more voice in this matter to residents who live there, and not just the general public in Singapore alone,” she said.

“And I really feel more weight has to be given to the people who live there, because they, like you and I, have a right to a good quality living environment, peace and security."

Whether the measures are here to stay remains to be seen. The Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot is expected to submit its findings to Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean by the end of June. 

Man fined $5,000 for false 'riot deaths' post on Facebook
By Elena Chong, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2014

A TECHNICIAN who made a "reckless" Facebook post, falsely claiming that five full-time national servicemen had been killed in the Little India riot, was fined $5,000 yesterday.

The day after the riot on Dec 8 last year, Desmond Lum Mun Hui, 28, wrote: "Yesterday riot cause 3 spf and 2 cd dead.. all nsf.. haiz.. sg.."

The terms "spf" and "cd" referred to the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force respectively.

He admitted transmitting the false message from his home in Jurong West.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Jason Nim said Lum had been reading about the preceding night's events and noted the large number of posts about it when he decided to fabricate and submit one of his own.

The DPP said: "When the said post attracted comments expressing disbelief, the accused proceeded to substantiate his initial post by stating the following: 'Yup..not publish news' and 'My fren on duty that night'."

Someone who read the message made a police report the next day.

DPP Nim said Lum had wanted to express regret at the "deaths". He added: "The offending conduct in this case consists of a transmission of a fabricated message out of a misguided and immature desire to attract attention on a social media platform.

"The offender was at most reckless as to the potential mischievous consequences," he said, adding that the post would have alarmed people who saw it.

District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim said the fine imposed could not simply be a "slap on the wrist".

Under the Telecommunications Act, Lum could have been fined up to $10,000 or jailed for up to three years, or both.

Fewer liquor licences in Little India after riot
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Jun 2014

More than 20 small businesses in Little India have pulled down their shutters in the last six months. Most are liquor sellers, impacted by alcohol curbs in the area following last December's riot there.

Liquor licences in Little India have also dropped from 331 in December 2013 to 321 as of last week (16 June). Channel NewsAsia understands this could be due to expired licences, or some businesses choosing to give up their licences. 

Last year, the total number of liquor licences issued islandwide was 6,176.

Before the December riot, liquor stores like Mr Sadhasivam Kailasam's were raking in the profits.

Mr Kailasam, the owner of Arasi Trading, said: "Before the riot, 100 per cent of shops were selling (alcohol), there was no problem. The rental, everything was cleared. We still got extra, and could get money (profit). Now, (because of) the riot problem, there has been an 80 percent drop. Only 20 percent are selling (liquor)."

His is not the only shop that has taken a hit after restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol were put in place under the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act.

Since the Act came into force in April, 149 people have been caught drinking during prohibited hours and two outlets taken to task for flouting liquor licensing conditions.

The measures have shrunk weekend crowds - in particular, the foreign workers.

Rajakumar Chandra, chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, said: "(With regard to the) restaurants, I would say, six to seven have closed down, and (for) liquor shops - at least 15 shops, small businesses, because they are so dependent on the Sunday business. They have also stopped their business activities because of the high overheads."

Some liquor stores in Little India said they are unable to fold their businesses because they are bound by rental agreements. Even after expanding the type of wares they sell in their shops they are still unable to make ends meet.

Before the riot, Mr Kabilan Balan easily earned $3,000 in liquor sales in a single weekend. Now he barely makes $1,000.

The owner of Moonshine Enterprise said that after paying the supplier, PUB bills and rental, there is no profit from his business.

"My wife is working, so she backs up my family expenses. If not, I cannot survive here," he said.

Liquor sellers hope the curbs will be lifted.

The second phase of public consultation to seek views on restricting consumption and sale of alcohol at public places is under way. The public consultation is conducted by the Home Affairs Ministry and government feedback portal REACH.

In the first phase, many supported a proposal to designate no-alcohol zones at some public places. They also wanted shops to stop selling alcohol after a certain time, with more restricted hours in residential areas.


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