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Posted: Monday, 22 June 2020 21:50

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Andhra Pradesh inching towards total Prohibition

June 22: If one took cognisance of the recent statement by Mr. K Narayanaswamy, one of the five Deputy Chief Ministers of Andhra, who stated that total prohibition will be implemented in the state in a phased manner, yet another State would fall in Red Zone (prohibition), writes Subhash Arora who feels the experiment would fail again as it did in 1997 when N. Chandrababu Naidu repealed the prohibition after being introduced by N. T Rama Rao in 1994 in the undivided Andhra Pradesh that included Telangana

The minister did qualify his statement by saying that there would be some relaxations to certain categories and one hopes it would include wine and beer. He also said that by reducing the number of wine shops (these are actually liquor shops in India), the government had lost a revenue of around Rs.1400 crores (Rs. 14 billion).

The Deputy CM who also holds the portfolio as Minister for Excise re-affirmed the government's commitment in implementing total prohibition in the State. By reducing a third of the wine shops in the state the excise revenue has come down from Rs. 4,380 crores. to Rs. 2,980 crores (with a shortfall of Rs. 1,400 crores). But he clarified that in order to develop tourism and to protect the interests of big hotels, relaxation in rules would be essential while implementing prohibition.

This is not the first time that the State would see the ban if it comes into effect. It was first introduced in 1952 by C. Rajagopalachari when he became Chief Minister of Madras State which then included Coastal Andhra. It was re-introduced in the undivided Andhra by N. T. Rama Rao in 1994. But N. Chandrababu Naidu repealed prohibition in 1997, citing that it was neither successful nor feasible because of the leakages within the state and from across the borders.

On 2 June 2014, Telangana State was separated out of Andhra Pradesh and both have since an independent liquor policy.

The new liquor policy that came into effect in January this year aims to make Andhra Pradesh alcohol-free by 2024. However, this is not the first attempt at total prohibition as Gujarat, Mizoram, Bihar, and Nagaland have already prohibited alcohol in India. Haryana had tried it in 1990s but failed miserably. In Mumbai one still has prohibition on paper with the concept of Permits and Permit Rooms very much alive, though not strictly followed.

Many people in Andhra feel this is just a political stunt. Andhra survives on the tax collection on liquor forming a substantial portion of the State tax kitty. It is also common to see bootleggers having a field day in the states having prohibition. It is also generally accepted that without the ‘blessings’ of the top brass it is not possible to do this illegal business that takes a big slice of taxes that the government would earn otherwise.

Indeed, there have been cases where the top politicians have been involved directly in the illegal marketing of liquor. In case of prohibition, Telangana and Maharashtra, the adjoining states are expected to benefit. No State has ever been able to eliminate alcohol consumption-the mode of selling and the cost of black-marketing takes it to different levels in terms of pricing and availability. While it may not be applicable as much to wine, spurious liquor becomes more of a rule than exception and there are even cases of many deaths because of spurious alcohol.

A wine distributor in Hyderabad who does not like to be identified, is quite satisfied with the Telangana policy but believes Andhra is just blowing the trumpet because of political mileage, unless the top politicians are interested in getting into the business of illegal marketing. It is difficult to run the State without the alcohol taxes, he confirms.

The time will tell which way the wind blows-but between Andhra, Telangana, Kerala and Karnataka, about 45% of alcohol is consumed-wine being a relatively insignificant part. One hopes that it continues to be available as a low- alcohol food product.

Subhash Arora

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