Three years after coming to power, the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government in Andhra Pradesh has gone back on its promise to enforce total prohibition.
While the state’s critical financial position is believed to have forced the government led by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy to take a U-turn, the ruling party so far maintaining silence on the issue and at times even reiterating its commitment to the promise of total prohibition.
A statement made by a Minister on Saturday clearly indicates that total prohibition is no longer on the government’s agenda.
When mediapersons asked Industries Minister Gudivada Amarnath why the government went back on its promise, he claimed that YSRCP did not make any such promise. “There is no talk of total prohibition in our manifesto. See the manifesto and if you find that we have not fulfilled a promise, then question us,” he said.
“We had merely said that the price of (retail) liquor will be increased to more than the price of liquor available in five-star hotels.”
He claimed that the party talked of creating a situation where a person thinking of boozing should get a shock.
Amarnath even challenged the mediapersons to go and check the YSRCP election manifesto saying it’s available in all government offices.
The YSRCP manifesto for 2019 elections clearly mentions the promise of liquor. The promise to ban the sale of alcohol was one of ‘Navaratnalu’ or nine gems, as the party called its promise of welfare schemes.
“The YSRCP promises to put in place a ban on sale of alcohol across the state in three stages,” reads the English text of ‘Navaratnalu’.
It was during his state-wide ‘padyatra’ before the 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, the Chief Minister announced that prohibition would be enforced in phases and finally consumption of liquor will be confined to five-star hotels only.
The promise was part of the detailed manifesto of the YSRCP in the 2019 elections.
“Liquor is dividing families and ruining human relations. That’s why after coming to power, we will ban liquor in three phases. Liquor will be confined to only five-star hotels,” reads the manifesto in Telugu.
Jagan Mohan Reddy had planned to implement prohibition in phases.
Under the first phase, he proposed to increase awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol and reduce the number of liquor shops.
In the second, it was proposed to increase taxes on liquor to discourage the poor and middle class from buying it.
Under the third and final phase, alcohol will only be available in five-star hotels and those found brewing or selling liquor will be jailed, it was announced.
After coming to power, the YSRCP government even took some initial steps to fulfil its promise.
One of the first major steps 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 stand, 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 the 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.
Amarnath further claims that the YSRCP government succeeded in bringing down liquor consumption. It shut down all ‘belt shops’ or illegal outlets.
“When we came to power there were 4,500 liquor shops. We reduced the number to 2,900. You may say that revenue from liquor has not come down but liquor consumption has definitely reduced,” he said.
His statement came amid the growing criticism from the opposition for the new bar policy announced by the government, inviting applications for new bars. The Excise Department issued notification for allotment of 840 bar licenses for three years in 130 municipal corporations and municipalities.
The auction has already earned record fees at several places. The bar license will be for three years with an enhancement of 10 per cent per annum in the license fee.
The opposition parties have slammed the bar policy saying it was aimed at further increasing the liquor revenue.
They have even alleged that the state government sold bonds by projecting growth in revenue from liquor and claimed that the revenue from liquor sale went up to Rs 22,000 crore in 2021-22 from Rs 14,000 crore in 2018-19.
Leader of the Jana Sena Party and actor Pawan Kalyan alleged that the state government projected this income from excise to sell bonds worth Rs 8,000 crore.
Main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is targeting the YSRCP government for not only going back on its poll promise but also a scam in liquor sales.
The TDP leaders have accused the government of promoting liquor consumption by making available ‘J-brands’ of cheap liquor.
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.
The opposition leaders have alleged that the ruling party was earning huge money through sale of cheap liquor made by distilleries owned by its leaders.
Senior TDP leader and former minister K.S. Jawahar demanded a judicial inquiry into the revenue generated through liquor sales.
“Before coming to power, Jagan Mohan Reddy promised to impose prohibition but after coming to power and becoming chief minister he transformed it into a maximum generating revenue source,” he said.
“Jagan Mohan Reddy had said that he did not want to see any woman becoming a widow due to liquor consumption but after coming to power he made liquor business a major source of income. How many people died after consuming the strange brands of liquor and how many women became widows after Jagan Mohan Reddy became Chief Minister,” he asked.
The TDP leader claimed that several liquor contractors who wanted to take part in the auction ran away like road contractors.
“Even MLAs and MLCs were threatened not to take part in the auctions and the YSRCP government has no proper liquor policy except minting money,” he said.