From New Year 2020, Andhra Pradesh will have a new liquor policy. The plan is to ban its sales totally, but in a phased manner. If all goes to plan, the state should be liquor-free by 2024, well in time for the next legislative assembly election. Andhra Pradesh will join only four other Indian states-Gujarat, Mizoram, Bihar and Nagaland- in banning the bottle. Liquor consumption is an emotive issue for the state’s women voters, and politicians, including the charismatic thespian – turned-Telugu Desam Party founder, the late N.T. Rama Rao (NTR), have found prohibition an opportune idea at election time. New chief minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy is no exception, it was one of his main poll promises during the 341-day praja sankalpa yatra, covering 3,648 kms in the run-up to his first electoral triumph in May 2019.
Reddy firmly believes that a total ban on liquor will cement his image among rural women, that it will be his passport to ensuring a loyal vote bank. It’s also a good stick to beat his bête noire and TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu with–the latter had ended the pretense and revoked the liquor ban his father-in- law NTR had imposed on April 1, 1997 some two years and three months after it had come into effect. NTR had not even spoken about it during his earlier stints as CM in the 1980s, but within minutes of taking oath on January 16, 1995, he announced total prohibition, describing the step as fulfilling an obligation towards his adapadachulus (sister). Funnily enough, during his first and second stints, the NTR government itself had been the main seller of local arrack (it was marketed via a state agency).
Jagan Reddy’s plan is to introduce prohibition in a phased manner. In the first step, the Andhra Pradesh government has taken over retail sales, reduced the number of liquor vends from 4,380 to 3,500 across the state and made the state-owned AP State Beverages Corporation the sole supplier from October 1. To gradually cut availability and consumption, liquor shops will stay open from 10 am to 9 pm only, which will be reduced progressively to just a few hours a day. Official estimates of consumption suggest that liquor sales in the state is already down 18 per cent since Reddy came to power in May end.
A new bar licensing policy is to come into force from January 1, when their number will come down from the current 798–excluding those in star hotels and the micro- breweries. The bars will be allowed to stay open from 11 am and 10 pm, an hour less than the existing timings. Apart from reducing business hours, the license fee will also see a big hike. The new policy also implies inherently that one will have to be lucky to run a bar, for new licenses are to be decided through a draw of lots.
“The total prohibition move is a courageous decision. Welfare schemes initiated by the government will be successful only when total prohibition is in place,” says state Lok Aykuta Justice P. Lakshman Reddy. But if past performance in implementing it is any guide, ultimately it will be the tipplers who come up trumps.
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