The roadmap to imposing total prohibition in Andhra Pradesh by 2024 is ready. It envisages banning sale of liquor in the state barring star hotels. The report was submitted by the Jana Chaitanya Vedika, the civil society group that was tasked with studying prohibition models existing in different states of India, to Ajeya Kallam, the advisor to the Andhra government on Monday. Prohibition in a phased manner is one of the promises YS Jaganmohan Reddy had made in the run-up to the elections.
The report has identified three phases in which Andhra is to be made alcohol-free. The first between 2019 and 2021 when all belt shops which are essentially unauthorised outlets will be closed.
Belt shops by definition buy 40-50 bottles of liquor from the authorised retail outlets and sell in every village, basically ensuring easy supply to tipplers. Every village in Andhra has 5 to 10 belt shops and the ease of supply at the consumer’s doorstep encourages addiction. There are an estimated 60000 to 70000 belt shops in operation in Andhra Pradesh. Not surprising then that 7 per cent of the state’s estimated 5 crore population is addicted to some form of alcohol.
It calls for effective publicity about the ill-effects of drinking and opening deaddiction centres in all district headquarters of Andhra Pradesh. At present, only Visakhapatnam in north coastal Andhra has a deaddiction centre.
The Vedika report asks for all wine shops that are located near the national and state highways to be shut down. During this period, 20 per cent of the existing 4800 retail shops are to be closed.
It has been suggested to the government that on the Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Delhi model, it should take over the liquor retail business so that timings can be controlled better, liquor is sold at MRP rate and sale of loose liquor can be curtailed. Right now, there is little regulation of the manner in which private retail shops sell alcohol.
The second phase between 2021 and 2023 will close down another 20 per cent of the liquor shops. And by 2024, when the next assembly election will be held in Andhra Pradesh, all shops are proposed to be shut down, except three-star and five-star hotels. The Vedika wants cinema halls, given the fascination for movies among Telugus, to screen documentaries on the ill-effects of drinking.
The question is whether a cash-strapped state like Andhra Pradesh can afford to forego the Rs 17000 crore revenue it generates per year from sale of alcohol. Already under a debt of Rs 2.97 lakh crore, the state pays an annual interest of Rs 40000 crore. And with YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s `Navratnalu’ (nine promises) expected to cost Rs 50000 crore over the next years, there will be a lot of pressure on the state exchequer to fund them.
“The idea is to send the message that we are not treating liquor as a revenue source,” says V Lakshmana Reddy, president of the Jana Chaitanya Vedika. Gujarat generates a revenue of Rs 85000 crore while Andhra’s revenue is Rs 65000 crore which includes income from excise. So the new government will have to rationalise its tax structure. Two, the benefits to society in terms of better health, law and order situation and prevention of accidents will be huge.”
Andhra Pradesh has experimented with prohibition in 1994-95 when NT Rama Rao returned to power. But it was short-lived as his successor, Chandrababu Naidu revoked it, citing resource crunch.
“NT Rama Rao imposed total prohibition without giving much thought to it or doing sufficient groundwork. Here we are phasing it over a five-year period. A backward state like Bihar is implementing it effectively and politically too there has not been any backlash if the recent Lok Sabha results are to be taken as an indication,” says Reddy.
The point being made is that though Jagan is emulating NTR, there is a significant difference in the way the new Andhra CM will go about it. The report estimates there won’t be more than 100 hotels in the cities of Andhra Pradesh which can serve liquor though this may spur hoteliers to open more hotels in many smaller towns.
Once chief minister Jagannmohan Reddy greenlights this roadmap presented to him, the path to a dry Andhra will be rolled out.