The Andhra Pradesh government’s efforts to implement prohibition has triggered a spike in the illicit liquor trade and smuggling of liquor from other states, and a large number of people are ending up in jail in liquor-related cases.
The Andhra Pradesh Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB), set up in May to curb the illegal liquor trade, has arrested 43,976 people in 33,754 cases between May 16 and August 26. These cases pertain to brewing illicit liquor, smuggling of liquor from neighbouring states, and illegal sale of liquor.
In the run up to the 2019 Assembly election, the YSR Congress Party had promised to implement total prohibition in the state and Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy had said he would seek reelection in 2024 only after making Andhra Pradesh a dry state.
Last October, the state government cancelled licences of all liquor shops. The government has gradually reduced the number of liquor shops from 4,380 to 2,934 and shut 43,000 outlets known as belt shops. It has also increased the prices by 75 per cent and the maximum possession limit of liquor and beer has been reduced to three bottles of any size.
The state government’s plan to set up de-addiction centres was delayed due to the pandemic.
The high prices and low availability of liquor has led to a boost in the illegal liquor trade in rural areas. In the last three months, SEB and police have seized 2,43,226 litres of illicit liquor; 2000 litres of toddy; 1,35,700 litres of black jaggery; 21,429 litres of duty paid Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and 1,617 litres of beer; and 2,34,152 litres of non-duty paid IMFL and 15,445 litres of beer.
SEB Commissioner Vineet Brijlal said that over 7,000 people have been arrested in Kurnool district for smuggling liquor from Karnataka and over 6,500 in Krishna district which borders Telangana.
V Lakshmana Reddy, chairman of the Liquor Prohibition Awareness Committee — Madya Vimochana Prachara Committee — under the Excise and Prohibition Department, said, “The illicit brewing is worrying because it is going on at a large scale. The price difference between liquor in the state and neighbouring states is very high, so inter-state smuggling has also started from Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. What has been seized is just about 10 per cent. When public transport restarts, inter-state smuggling will increase. But the state government is committed to implementing prohibition in a phased manner. We are strengthening SEB by recruiting more officials and IPS officers will lead the teams. We have studied the Bihar model so we think that in a couple of years, total prohibition is possible and illicit brewing will also be curbed,’’ Reddy said.
Deepak Reddy, spokesperson for Opposition TDP, said “haphazard” implementation of prohibition has spawned a huge market for illicit liquor and black marketing of smuggled IMFL. “Government should have made proper arrangements before implementing prohibition,’’ he said.
Sources said district jails are filling up with people arrested under prohibition laws. The offences have been made non-bailable and repeat offenders are being booked under Preventive Detention Act. “Earlier, such offenders were released from the police station on bail. Now they have to wait till a court grants bail and till that time they remain in prison,’’ an official said.
Deputy Chief Minister K Narayana Swamy, who holds the excise portfolio, said Chief Minister Reddy wants to promote healthy living. “Women, especially in rural areas, are very happy. The loss of revenue is nothing compared to the savings in lower and lower middle class households,” he said,