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Reign of liquor in Andhra Pradesh

Author: Ganesh S. Lakshman
Publication: The Times of India
Date: February 24, 2012
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Reign-of-liquor-in-Andhra-Pradesh/articleshow/12011328.cms

Literally, the state of Andhra Pradesh runs on liquor. From financing the electoral campaigns of politicians and ensuring their lavish lifestyle through the existence of the liquor syndicate, liquor helps the state government go about its business by being the second highest revenue earner after sales tax.

 In the 2012-13 financial year, the state government expects to earn Rs 14,000 crore through the sale of liquor and implement all its projects including the welfare schemes. During the same period, the liquor syndicate comprising politicians, state government officials and retailers are expected to pocket about another Rs 10,000 crore, all at the cost of more citizens of the state turning into alcoholics with each passing day.

 "Sale of liquor has been a major source of revenue for the state in the last three to four decades. As a consequence, the government's policies are encouraging many to become alcoholics, which in turn causing severe financial stress on many families. Over seven million families are experiencing the pernicious impact of liquor consumption in the state. Tens of thousands of women are suffering because as the men folk spend the family's scarce resources on liquor, and then subject them to domestic violence. All this warrants rigorous control of liquor in the state," said Loksatta MLA Jayaprakash Narayan, whose party has been at the forefront of curbing the liquor trade in the state.

 The state did experience a brief period of prohibition in the mid nineties but saying that the revenue mobilization has been hit due to the prohibition policy, successive governments ensured that liquor flowed.

 Soon after returning to power during an anti-Congress wave due to the anti-liquor agitation in the state, chief minister N T Rama Rao imposed prohibition in the state on January 16, 1995 and his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu continued the policy after taking over as chief minister by dethroning NTR.

 But on April 1, 1997, Naidu lifted the prohibition. His contention was that the sale of liquor was fetching as much as Rs 3,000 crore per annum to the state and the same can be spent on various welfare scheme in the state. Although former chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy had criticized Naidu for lifting prohibition, it was during the successive Congress regimes that the liquor syndicate in fact grew leaps and bounds and spread its tentacles into every nook and corner of the state.

 Since then, the liquor business has been flourishing in Andhra Pradesh. From a revenue of Rs 924 crore in 1998-99, the money that the state made through the sale of liquor shot up to Rs 4,125 crore in 2007-08. "But what is cause for concern is the loot of the people by the liquor syndicate with the blessings of the state government. In no other state in the country does such a nexus exist," said an official once connected to the excise department.

 For example, the state has already earned Rs 16,250 crore through the sale of liquor in the current financial year which is slated to end in March 2012. According to the sources, the liquor syndicate comprising politicians, state government officials, retailers etc made another Rs 8,000 crore from the unsuspecting buyers.

 "All across the state, the retailers sell liquor about 50 per cent to 70 per cent over the MRP. The maximum violations take place in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam, followed by Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore. While East and West Godavari and Krishna districts are next in the list. In effect, Rs 8,000 crore collected by the liquor syndicate from the people does not come to the state coffers but ends up in the pockets of the politicians, excise, ACB, police officials and the retailers," said the sources.

 Ironically, the cost of producing the liquor that fetched Rs 16,250 crore in 2011-12 is said to be a mere Rs 1,000 crore. But what many in the state government say is that since the liquor syndicate is so powerful, it will be very difficult to take it on. "If almost three-fourths of the Congress MLAs and many from the opposition are part of the syndicate, who would dare to challenge them," said an official.

    
But thanks to the recent ACB raids, at least the existence of such a huge racket has come under public scrutiny, he admitted.
 
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