Andhra Pradesh is making it expensive to consume liquor while it works towards implementing prohibition, and women, especially those from rural areas who led the campaign to restrict the sale of liquor, are relieved the men are sober and not squandering their earnings.
On May 30, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy took oath as Chief Minister and announced his decision to implement prohibition in the state — a poll promise. Since then, the government has taken over the management of liquor shops and cancelled the licences of bars while making it expensive to renew them.
Has consumption of liquor gone down?
After the closure of more than 40,000 illegal liquor outlets, 880 of 4,380 licensed liquor shops, and government taking over the remaining 3,500 shops and restricting sales, liquor consumption in AP came down by 47.87 per cent between May and October
In May 2019, the sale of Indian Made Foreign Liquor was 28,52,922 cases while 34,47,391 cases of beer were sold by the AP Depots. In June, 24,62967 cases of IMFL and 26,69,343 cases of beer were sold. In July, it rose to 31,14,902 cases of IMFL and 25,64,563 cases of beer were sold. In August, 29,48,495 cases of IMFL and 19,87,944 cases beer were sold. In September, 22,25,546 case of IMFL and 16,45,813 cases of beer were sold while in October, 14,87,229 IMFL and 5,95,599 cases of beer were sold.
In October 2018, 32,28,366 cases of IMFL and 23,86,397 cases of beer were sold. The liquor revenue, however, fell from Rs 1,701.24 crors in October 2018 to Rs 1,038.89 crore.
“After the closure of illegal liquor shops in June and closure of permit rooms to consume liquor attached to licensed liquor shops, the number of alcoholics seen in public has come down. The government-run liquor shops close at 8 pm which is a big relief because the men go home early. Drinking in public is also not seen anymore. Women are happy because men are not drunk every evening,” says G Indira, a health worker and activist from Srikakulam.
How expensive has liquor become?
The state is levying Additional Retail Excise Tax ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 250 per bottle — a 60 ml bottle would cost Rs 10 more while a 90 ml bottle Rs 20 more while a litre bottle would cost Rs 150 more — making it expensive. The cost of beer has also gone up by Rs 20 to Rs 60 depending on quantity and brand. Last week, the government cancelled the existing policy for bars and issued a new policy bringing down the number of bars by 40 per cent.
“While we have doubled the license fee we also intend to make it very expensive to drink in bars. All these measures are pushing down the sales and consumption and we will continue to tighten it regularly,” says Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Excise K Narayana Swamy.
Why was prohibition a poll promise?
It began with women in many villages across Andhra Pradesh attacking “belt shops” — illegal liquor outlets — and arrack breweries in June 2017. Slowly and steadily, it caught on and it became a movement in the 13 districts of AP where rural women vented their ire against liquor shops, sometimes attacking them and breaking liquor bottles. On November 6, 2019, women of Rallagadda village in Gudem Kotha Veedhi Mandal of Visakhapatnam attacked an illegal brewery in their village and sent a video to officials even as Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy was discussing how to bring down the number of bars by 40 per cent in the state.
The movement, which was akin to the one started in 1992 by women, coincided with Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s 3,648-km long padayatra which he started on November 6, 2017. “As he walked through the villages and mandals, women in large numbers would surround him and tell him how alcohol addiction of their men was ruining the families. Almost everywhere women told Jagan that they would vote for him if he promised to enforce prohibition,” YSRCP MLA Ambati rambabu.
“Rampant alcoholism has brought economic and social ruin to lakhs of families in rural Andhra Pradesh. Men spent their entire earnings of the day on liquor, leaving families in penury. They could not have proper food, kids dropped out of school, and had no money if they fell sick,” says Shiran Rahman, a Viskhapatnam-based NGO which is campaigning for prohibition.
The NGO had conducted two studies — one on how alcoholism was causing economic ruin in rural households, and other on social and health effects of alcohol addiction in rural areas. “The addiction is so severe that many men drink in the morning and as soon as their intoxication goes down they again consume liquor. They spend all their day’s earnings on liquor. This causes marital discord leading to domestic violence. Children drop out of school with girl children becoming the victims first. In last couple of years women have joined Self-Helf Groups or have started working and earning more than their husbands. They are now taking care of the kids, paying fees and sending them to school. These women are now in a good position to demand prohibition or restricted sale of alcohol,” Rahman says.
Andhra experimented with prohibition before, what happened?
In 1994 elections, the movement for prohibition led by an illiterate woman named Vardhineni Rosamma, popularly known as Dubagunta Rosamma, of Dubbgunta village in Nellore district became a major poll issue and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Founder-President N T Rama Rao promised total prohibition, if voted to power, just like Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy did. After taking oath as CM in January 1995, NTR imposed prohibition for the first time in AP. However, when N Chandrababu Naidu became the CM in 1997, he revoked the prohibition citing loss of revenue and cross-border liquor sales and brewing of illicit liquor.
Writer and activist Kancha Ilaiah, who wrote on the 1992-93 movement led by women, says women suffer the most. “This effort to implement prohibition in AP has the support of all women. In rural areas, women suffer the most—they are victims of domestic abuse and the family ends up in poverty. However, we have to see if total prohibition is possible or not because in 1992-93 it gave way to rampant illicit liquor brewing and cross-border liquor sales. It defeated the purpose of prohibition. I think Jagan may not be able to implement total prohibition but work towards restricting sale of liquor,” Ilaiah said.