The price of liquor in Andhra Pradesh is much higher than in its neighbouring states.

A collage of liquor bottles and CM Jagan Mohan Reddy
news Politics Friday, October 16, 2020 - 17:39

Sunil Sharma*, a resident of Visakhapatnam who was visiting his daughter in Hyderabad, dropped by a liquor shop to pick up some alcohol. He was shocked to find that the price that he usually paid for a full bottle of a certain liquor brand in Visakhapatnam was available for 1/3 the price in Hyderabad. He filled his cart with the best brands, hardly believing the prices he was seeing - comparable only to the liquor rates in Union Territories like Goa or Puducherry.

Last year in Andhra Pradesh, the state government decided that the government would take over all the liquor outlets in the state. Since then, the Andhra Pradesh State Beverages Corporation has handled the sale of liquor in the state.

Throughout his campaigning before the elections, prohibition was one of Jagan Mohan Reddy’s biggest pre-poll promises. He hopes to implement prohibition in a three-phased manner in the state by the end of his five-year term. As part of the initial effort, belt shops were banned and the price of liquor was increased to discourage people from consuming alcohol. When the price was increased the move was hailed by many as the government’s first major step towards prohibition.

‘CM Jagan’s prohibition only on paper’

However, TDP’s Politburo member and senior leader Varla Ramaiah feels that Jagan Mohan Reddy’s prohibition lies only on paper. Comparing the prohibition introduced during NT Rama Rao’s regime to the one that Jagan Mohan Reddy is attempting, he said, “NTR had attempted to implement prohibition in toto. However, smugglers were active back then despite the best efforts by the government and the police to curb smuggling. Hiking prices of liquor will not help prohibition. Those who wish to drink will find ways to do so.”

‘Impossible to implement prohibition in Andhra Pradesh’

Varla Ramaiah, who was in the police department serving as a Circle Inspector in Vijayawada during NTR’s regime said, “As a former police officer I can assure you that prohibition is not possible in a state like Andhra Pradesh. The state has business links with neighbouring states like Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The biggest challenge is Telangana. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have so much in common. You can cross from one state to the other in a very short time. Unless both states go for prohibition, it is impossible to implement it in only one state.”

‘Liquor: A revenue-generating source’

According to BJP leader Dinaker Lanka, liquor is a revenue-generating source for the government and money prioritises above the health of the people. He said, “Despite the poll promise of the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP for a 100% prohibition of liquor in the state, all that the government has done is to raise the state’s income from liquor by increasing its prices. The State Government feels that liquor is one of the main revenue-generating sources and for them it is a bigger priority than the health of the people. After the lockdown period when Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government opened up liquor stores first, the government had faced a lot of criticism.”

Apart from this, the approach of Jagan Mohan Reddy's governance on liquor shops open had faced a lot of criticism during the lockdown period and permission to sell cheap quality liquor, allegedly which are manufactured by his party leaders and their representatives at the cost of the public health.

The increase in prices of alcohol in the state has not only led to increased smuggling it has also led to an abrupt increase in the illicit distillation of liquor in the state.

Illicit Distillation of liquor

Ever since the prices of liquor went up in the state, illicit distillation (I.D) has gone up tremendously. In all 13 districts of the state illicit distillation is rampant. East Godavari, Kurnool, Visakhapatnam & Chittoor top the charts for maximum illicit distillation.  In the month of May, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) was set up with the sole aim of cracking down on illegal trade of both liquor and sand.  

According to the data released by the SEB, so far after formation of SEB, they have detected 19,567 cases in regards to illicit distillation involving 19123 accused. The figures are startling. They have also seized 2,58,448 litres of I.D. Liquor and destroyed 57,21,704 of jaggery wash and seized 2956 Vehicles.

As part of the government’s efforts to check illicit distillation, the AP Prohibition Act was amended and the period of sentence was increased to 8 years from 5 years and the accused are being remanded to judicial custody. The SEB and the police often carry out joint raids.

As on August 26, 133 government officials were arrested by the SEB for their role in trade related to illicit liquor and sand.

Smuggling of liquor from neighbouring states

According to the SEB, there are several factors that lead to smuggling of liquor. While maximum alcohol is usually smuggled in from the neighbouring state of Telangana, the SEB has noticed a change in the smuggling pattern. Now, more liquor is being smuggled in from Karnataka to Andhra Pradesh than from Telangana in the last month. This is because the price differences between the rate in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is higher than the difference of rates of liquor in Telangana.

‘Smuggling of liquor increased by 500%’

Speaking to TNM, Vineet Brijlal, the commissioner of SEB, “The rates of liquor in the state was increased by 75% in May. Because of the lifting of lockdown, because of non-availability of liquor and because of the price differences, the quantity of liquor smuggled increased by around 500% as compared to the same period last year. Now, there is increased surveillance in the border districts and check posts have been set up. In September, the prices in the cheap category were rationalized. After that, now the smuggling is balancing out as compared to before.”

“The SEB has set up strict enforcement at the borders of the state. SEB has around 389 check posts at the border. SEB also has control over around 23 excise check posts.  Apart from this the SEB also has border mobile parties”, added Brijlal.

There was a Government order about a three-bottle limit per person and the High Court’s interpretation was that even those coming from outside should be allowed to carry 3 bottles per person. According to the present rules, those travelling to Andhra Pradesh are allowed to carry 3 bottles per person.

“The SEB has written to the government to file an appeal against the order and to modify the government order to make it explicit that there is a difference between the local state liquor and the liquor bought from outside,” added the SEB Commissioner.

*Name changed on request

 

 

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