Despite multifarious attempts by the Andhra Pradesh government to restrict illicit distillation of liquor (natu sara), several cases of this banned activity continue to happen in remote places all over the state.
“Generally it is manufactured in remote areas of AP. As you know AP is a big state with different landscapes, because of that and the history earlier in agency areas and small islands also in East Godavari and other forested areas people used to manufacture,” said the Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) commissioner Vineet Brijlal to IANS.
Less than a year ago, AP government set up the Special Enforcement Bureau, which is headed by the senior Indian Police Service Officer (IPS) to curb natu sara as well as other crimes such as marijuana growth and sale, illegal sand mining and sale, red sanders smuggling and others.
According to the data shared by Brijlal for the past 10 months, SEB officials destroyed 1.3 crore litres of fermented jaggery wash, seized 3.2 lakh kg black jaggery, booked 89,518 cases, seized 24,934 vehicles and arrested 1.17 lakh persons for liquor violations alone.
These numbers which hint the scale of these crimes do not end there but continue as SEB seized 5 lakh litres of NDPL and 67,248 litres liquor confiscated from belt shops, including the involvement of 257 government officials.
SEB also seized 1.14 lakh kg of marijuana (ganja) and destroyed 5,000 such plants.
Going by the pattern of these crimes, it gives a clear indication that these illegal activities may continue despite SEB’s efforts.
However, the current government’s decision to discourage liquor consumption by making it expensive and limiting its time of sale also seems to be contributing to the rise in illegal liquor distillation.
“The new policy of this government is basically to reduce consumption of liquor as part of (protecting) the health of the youth here. In that sense, once this control has been made, somebody wants to fill up the demand so these people are activated, usually earlier excise offenders,” said Brijlal.
Gone are the days when so many liquor shops used to dot the roadsides across the state.
The combined effect of high prices, limited hours of sale and the current government’s policy departing from earlier governments’ encouragement have contributed to many people thinking of an opportunity and demand to encash.
For instance, there was a time when a just a few kilometres of distance from the SRKR engineering college in Bhimavaram on the Juvvalaplem Road was dotted with multiple liquor shops.
Earlier government also viewed liquor sales as a consistent tax revenue contributor to the government’s coffers which the Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government deviated from.
Brijlal said this problem also has some socio-economic dimensions such as tribals in the agency areas of the Godavari districts, Visakhapatnam and others also indulging in producing illegal liquor.
However, he noted that these tribals are not hardcore offenders or criminals and said that enforcement needs to be done along with awareness and education to wean them away from this habit.
“That is also being done. Operation Parivartana is being done in Krishna district and parts of West Godavari and another one more in Srikakulam agency with local ITDA,” he said.
He said the government is trying to show alternative employment opportunities for people in these places not to return to natu sara production.
According to the IPS officer, the state government has also amended laws to mete out stringent punishment to illegal liquor manufacture offenders.
Brijal said punishment earlier used to be like 2 – 3 years of jail time with many offenders escaping prison as well but now it has been raised to eight years.
The SEB commissioner observed that though distilling liquor is not so difficult as it is one of the most ancient trades, offenders in these cases also face great difficulties to set up those production arrangements in far off remote areas such as forests and other island-like places in East Godavari district.
Meanwhile, many tipplers in the state are not very impressed with the government’s policy of inflated liquor prices and restricting sales timelines.
“I don’t think Jagan is doing the right thing with his liquor policy. He should not make it so difficult for people to buy liquor,” said a person who did not wish to identify.
Some months back a drunkard was openly abusing the chief minister on the road in West Godavari district for inflating the prices and limited sales hours.
Similarly, many people have resorted to smuggling liquor from other states in AP where it is cheaper, especially from Telangana.
Including sand, gutka, red sanders and gambling crackdowns along with busting liquor offences, the SEB booked 97,761 cases and arrested more than 1.32 lakh people in the past 10 months. Eom/818 words
(Sharon Thambala can be contacted at email@example.com)