Does Jagan’s silence on Prohibition indicate U-Turn on major poll plank?

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy recently claimed that his government fulfilled 95 per cent of the poll promises made by YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).

However, there is one major promise which the government is yet to fulfill — total prohibition in a phased manner. After taking some initial steps, the YSRCP government appears to have gone back on the promise.

It was during his statewide ‘padyatra’ before 2019 elections that Jagan Mohan Reddy had promised to women that if voted to power his party would implement total prohibition. After assuming office in May 2019 he announced that prohibition would be enforced in phases and finally consumption of liquor will be confined to five-star hotels only.

Though the ruling party claims that it is committed to total prohibition, some recent moves indicate otherwise. Many believe that the financial crisis has forced YSRCP to give up its plans for total prohibition and it is now looking to promote the liquor sales to boost revenue.

One of the first major steps taken by Jagan after coming to power in 2019 was the government taking over the retail liquor business. It also cut down the number of liquor shops and increased the price of liquor to discourage consumption.

In the first reversal of this, the government last year reduced the liquor price and is now reportedly contemplating handing over retail liquor business back to private traders to increase the revenue from the liquor.

The reduction in the prices of liquor last year resulted in 30 per cent growth in the sale of liquor in the state. The government justified this saying it was done to check smuggling of liquor into Andhra Pradesh from Telangana and other neighbouring states due to high prices in the state. It said the move was also aimed to curb bootlegging.

The monthly revenue of Andhra Pradesh State Beverages Corporation has gone up to Rs 2,100 crore – Rs 2,150 crore from earlier Rs 1,800 crore to Rs 1,900 crore.

The opposition parties have even alleged that the state government sold bond by projecting growth in revenue from liquor. Actor politician Pawan Kalyan pointed out that the revenue from liquor sale in 2018-19 was just Rs 14,000 crore but it increased to Rs 22,000 crore in 2021-22. “Is it implementation of prohibition in a phased manner? Projecting this income, had you not sold bonds worth Rs 8,000 crore?,” he asked the chief minister.

The government recently announced Bar Policy 2022 and invited applications to issue licences for bars. As the licences of all the existing bars will expire on June 30, fresh licences should be obtained as per the new policy which will come into force from September 1.

The bar licence will be for three years subject to payment of non-refundable registration charge and licence fee with an enhancement of 10 per cent per annum.

The opposition parties have slammed the bar policy saying it was aimed at further increasing the liquor revenue.

Main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) alleged that the chief minister betrayed women by going back on his promise of total prohibition.

The TDP leaders have also accused the government of promoting liquor consumption by making available ‘J-brands’ of cheap liquor.

“Jagan Reddy wooed the votes by making a false promise of prohibition to women in 2019. The women should teach him a lesson for the betrayal,” said TDP MLA Anagani Satya Prasad

Opposition parties alleged that cheap liquor is leading to deaths. In the latest incident on July 14, two persons died in Repalle after consuming liquor.

In March this year, 19 persons died after consuming alleged cheap liquor in Jangareddygudem town of West Godavari district. The government, however, claimed that these were natural deaths.

TDP national general secretary Nara Lokesh has slammed Jagan Reddy into ‘Sampoorna Madyapaana Pradesh’ (complete liquor state).

Lokesh called it a matter of serious concern that CM Jagan brought over Rs 8,300 crore new loans by ‘mortgaging the drunkards’ in the state.

He demanded the chief minister to explain what happened to his pre-election promise of phased prohibition. Jagan Reddy had made countless such false promises to his so-called ‘akka chellemmalu’ (elder and younger sisters).

Lokesh said the CM portrayed himself as ‘Jagananna’ for all but after coming to power, his J-brands started tearing apart the mangala sutras of all sections of women. The chief minister’s betrayal of liquor policy was enough to say how treacherous the YSRCP rule has been in the past three years.

All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has called for an agitation by the major opposition parties for implementation of the total ban on liquor. It is also planning a yatra in October and November seeking total prohibition.

The YSRCP government, however, denied that it is encouraging liquor consumption. Its leaders cited the recent National Family Health Survey, which revealed that 11.5 per cent of the total population in the state. They say it is lower than the consumption rate in neighbouring states.

They also claimed that the government is making sincere efforts to contain liquor consumption. According to them, the government weeded out 42,000 belt shops or illegal outlets and trimmed retail liquor shops by nearly 30 per cent in the last three years. They say the government reduced the number of liquor shops to 2,934 from 4,380.

The YSRCP leaders say even under the new bar policy, the number of bars in the state will not exceed the existing 840.

Dismissing allegations of the opposition, they pointed out that estimated liquor revenue in the 2022-23 budget is only Rs 16,500 crore, lower than the revenue generated in 2021-22.

The YSRCP leaders say the government also set up de-addiction centres to free liquor addicts from their habits. They are of the view that any sudden decision with regard to prohibition would boomerang

Political analysts say that considering the state’s precarious financial position, Jagan Reddy has no option but to fall back on revenues from liquor.

P. Raghavendra Reddy, a political analyst, pointed out that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its latest report categorised Andhra Pradesh among the laggard states of India, when it comes to revenue generation. Pressured by populous schemes announced during 2019 elections and implementation of the same is the main reason for financial stress on the state.

“Considering this scenario, Andhra Pradesh on one side needs more funds to sustain welfare schemes, while on the other it is not making sufficient revenue from regular taxes. Hence, the government is in no shape to implement total prohibition in the state,” he said.

“Unless the Jagan regime finds a means to increase GSDP from non-excise sources, the state government will depend on money it makes by selling liquor to its own citizens,” he added.

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