Politics of liquor policy in Andhra Pradesh: Between the bottle and the ballot

South First sheds light on the TDP and the YSRCP's flip-flops on a possible alcohol ban in Andhra Pradesh in the run-up to the 2024 elections.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Feb 22, 2024 | 1:00 PMUpdatedFeb 22, 2024 | 1:22 PM

Women wants ban, men demand quality liquor in Andhra.

“Oye Sitamma! Join the protest to march against the liquor lobby and persuade your husband to give up drinking.” — A rallying voice from the women in the 1990s in Andhra Pradesh.

“Sitamma” is not from the Ramayana but from the 1990s erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh government textbooks issued for the literacy movement.

The specific chapter in the textbook, which addressed alcohol prohibition and the fight against the liquor lobby, played a huge role in one of India’s popular anti-arrack movements.

TDP founder Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) implemented the ban in 1995; however, his successor and son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu lifted it within 28 months.

And yet, nothing much has changed as Andhra Pradesh gears up for another round of Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

On one hand, the YSRCP claimed that it would implement a ban, which was not implemented. On the other, the TDP-JSP has been toying with the idea of providing quality brands at lower prices.

Caught in between are the poor households that suffer the most.

The ban on alcohol is a welfare policy as provided in the Directive Principles of State Policy (Article 47), which the state should strive to implement.

However, the state itself has been seeing it as a source of income. “The revenue through the sale of liquor has increased from around ₹100 crore in the 1970s to around ₹30,000 crore today,” said social activist, retired lecturer and NGO Jana Chaitanya Vedika president V Lakshmana Reddy.

“With years passing, more people are turning towards liquor,” he told South First.

Reddy created the Sitamma story in the 1990s as a part of the literacy campaign and later played a role in the anti-liquor movement.

He also headed the state-level liquor prohibition awareness committee under the YSRCP government in 2019.

However, he resigned in 2022, stating that Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy had reneged on the promise that he had been pursuing for three decades.

Against this backdrop, South First talked to the people, considering the many turns and twists in the implementation of the liquor ‘ban’ and promises by the YSRCP and TDP to gauge the voters’ mood ahead of the elections .

Also Read: SC notice to ED on Abhishek Boinpally’s plea challenging legality of arrest

The TDP’s ban, lift, and U-turn

By 1990-91, Andhra Pradesh topped the country in liquor consumption. The rise in the price of alcohol, combined with the increased consumption of liquor by financially struggling men, put a strain on household finances. Further, women had to bear the burden of subsistence, besides enduring domestic abuse.

In this context, the women’s movement in the Nellore district in 1992, led by Vardhaneni Rosamma and inspired by the Sitamma story, gained momentum and spread throughout the state. It motivated rural women to rally against the liquor lobby.

Even actor-turned-politician NTR — a towering political figure at that time — acknowledged in his manifesto the impact of this movement.

Eventually, within a month of returning to power, NTR banned alcohol in the state on 16 January 1995.

However, just 28 months after the announcement, the Sitamma cri de coeur among the women fizzled out to the point where it was confined within houses, and the alcohol ban was lifted on 1 April 1997 by NTR’s son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu.

The TDP manifesto stating ban on liquor as second signature.

The TDP manifesto stating ban on liquor as second signature.

The new chief minister claimed the ban was unfeasible due to bootlegging within the state and smuggling from across the borders, causing a loss to the exchequer. Alcohol further fizzed merrily with successive governments.

A decade and a half later, Naidu seemed to have changed his mind. The TDP-BJP government, with the support of the Jana Sena Party, won the 2014 elections and formed the first government in the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh.

The main promise of the TDP was the prohibition of alcohol in the state, and it ban order would be Naidu’s second signature after assuming power, it was promised.

However, the phase-wise prohibition never saw the light of the day. In fact, from 2014 to 2019, the state had 4,780 retail shops and 840 bars with 384.36 lakh cases of liquor sold in 2018-19 alone, generating an excise revenue of ₹20,128 crore.

Women’s opinion grew increasingly unfavourable throughout the TDP rule as the arrack continued to brew across the state.

The then Opposition leader YS Jagan Mohan Reddy wasted no time and met families affected by alcohol during his Praja Sankalpa Padayatra.

He promised a ban on liquor in a phased manner. He said he would ask for votes in 2024 only after the complete implementation of a ban on alcohol, where liquor would be availability only in five-star hotels in the third phase.

Also Read: Comedian Jabardasth Avinash distributes liquor to promote his film

Jagan Mohan Reddy’s ban

After coming to power in 2019, the YSRCP planned to control the liquor trade by reducing the number of wine shops and bars.

Since October 2019, the YSRCP government has been restricting liquor sales, resulting in a 33 percent reduction in the number of retail outlets (from 4,380 to 2,934) and a 40 percent decrease in bars (from 840 to 530). This reduction was intended to restrict access to liquor.

Additionally, the government claimed to downed shutters on all 43,000 illegal liquor shops, mainly operating in rural areas.

The YSRCP manifesto stating ban on liquor and restricting it only to 5 star hotels.

The YSRCP manifesto stating ban on liquor and restricting it only to 5 star hotels.

To further discourage liquor consumption, the Jagan government hiked liquor prices — including retail fees, additional retail fees, prohibition tax, excise duty, and privilege fees — by a significant bit.

Also, by assuming control of all retail liquor shops, the government has been managing the sale.

As a result, the government permitted elite walk-in stores (Elite Shops) in urban areas from 2020-21 onwards, contrary to its initial promise.

The government asserted that it had reduced alcohol consumption from 384.36 lakh cases in 2018-19 to 335.98 lakh cases in 2022-23. Despite a small reduction in the number of cases, revenue increased to ₹23,785 crore in the fiscal year 2022-2023.

In July 2023, the Andhra Pradesh State Beverages Corporation Limited (APSBCL) reportedly raised an additional ₹25,000 crore through the issuance of liquor bonds.

With this initiative, Jagan’s ban appeared more distant — with many issues remaining to be addressed — as the elections draw closer.

According to the National Family Health Survey, alcohol consumption in Andhra Pradesh in 2019-21 stood at 11.5 percent, nearly 1.6 percentage points above the national average of around 9.9 percent.

Also Read: After TN and Puducherry ban, Telangana tests cotton candy at tribal festival

The cash transactions

In the digital era, the world has evolved through digital payments. However, cash is still the preferred transaction method for retail liquor stores and walk-in-marts in Andhra Pradesh. In both types of shops, payments are only accepted in cash, and digital payments are not allowed.

Opposition parties, including the TDP-JSP, the BJP, the Congress, and the Left parties, alleged that the substantial use of cash payments was intended to divert money into the YSRCP’s pockets.

It was only in 2023 — for the first time in the state after four years and amid criticism from the Opposition — that the government started accepting digital payments. However, cash remained the primary method of payment in majority of the government-run stores.

An engineering student, who wished to remain anonymous, was buying alcohol from a government liquor retail shop in Vijayawada Benz Circle. He said there was no truth in digital payments being accepted. He had to search for an ATM to withdraw money and then return to outlet to get his bottle.

Daily-wage workers B Sesha Rao and G Srinu also had to pay in cash. Visible drunk and noisome, they raised another complaint against state-run outlets — that liquor brands available in the past were no longer accessible since Jagan assumed power.

Sweet shock: Tamil Nadu, Puducherry enforce ban on beloved cotton candy. Here’s why

The multiple new brands

Napoleon, Boom Boom, President Medal, Governor Choice, Legend, Power Star 999, Seventh Heaven, Octan, Classic Blue, and High Voltage are the various alcohol brands frequently mentioned in memes and widely available in Andhra Pradesh.

Interstate illegal liquor sales, too,  often grab headlines.

“Popular premium brands have been very rare, and started appearing in retail and walk-in marts only in the past month as elections are nearing,” said a bar-and-restaurant owner in Vijayawada.

The APSBCL is the exclusive supplier and retail seller of liquor since the YSRCP assumed power. The limited availability of brands in the state is attributed to the management of demand and supply by this entity.

Another Vijayawada bar-and-restaurant owner said that previously there was a wide array of brands to choose from, but now the list has been limited to what the beverage corporation provides.

Andhra Pradesh BJP president Daggubati Purandeswari claimed that the APSBCL was acquiring 74 percent of liquor from 16 companies — all linked to YSRCP leaders — out of 100-plus registered producers.

“All the liquor being sold are from the YSRCP leaders, who in turn promise maximum benefit to the government through the profit margin where premium brand would give less profit margin,” explained Lakshmana Reddy.

However, the YSRCP said the brands were signed on in the TDP tenure.

Also Read: Mysore Paints prepares over 26 lakh vials of indelible ink for Lok Sabha polls

Why drink?

C Srinivas and U Eshwar, who were purchasing liquor at a retail shop in Guntur, told South First, “We are buying low-quality liquor for high prices as compared to better ones that were earlier available at a nominal price.”

They expressed belief that the alcohol content in the current brands was high, and that they were being manufactured in Andhra Pradesh by people without adequate experience.

They added that quality brands like 8 PM had become costly. “Just 90ml of 8 PM is ₹90 in Karnataka and Telangana, including water and sides (side dishes), but ₹150 in Andhra Pradesh excluding others,” they noted.

At the same price of ₹90, we only get 90 ml ‘Dhanos’, which is extremely harsh in taste, almost like acid, and is manufactured in Andhra Pradesh.

They said they drink — despite opposition from women in the family — to drown the worries from poor business (impacted by the sand policy in the state), financial tensions, and family pressure.

A government owned retail wine shop in Vijayawada.

A government-owned retail wine shop in Vijayawada.

They claimed that the welfare schemes were not helping them, as the minimum amount was very insufficient for survival without a job.

The new sand policy increased the price of one load to ₹15,000, compared to the previous ₹3,000-₹4,000. As a result, construction activities have come to a halt, with no new projects coming up.

Surprisingly, both of them said that they would not stop buying alcohol even if priced as high as gold.

They also asserted that they would migrate to Telangana or Karnataka, or eventually die of post-withdrawal symptoms.

On the other hand, B Sesha Rao and G Srinu from Vijayawada stated that they engaged in physically demanding work, including carrying stones and cement.

They claimed that without liquor, it would be challenging for them to perform their jobs, and consuming liquor was necessary.

A Malyadri, the state secretary of the Kula Vivaksha Porata Sangam (KVPS), shared his perspective on how daily wage workers were taken to liquor.

He explained to South First that the poor were provided alcohol instead of money for their labour.

Malyadri recalled that his father, a tree cutter, was provided alcohol instead of actual payments by the landlords and people from upper castes in their village in Ongole.

Actor assault case: Kerala HC directs sessions judge to give fact-finding report to survivor

Can price hike stop consumption?

The rationale behind the state government’s decision to increase prices was to discourage the poor from consuming alcohol.

Men accustomed to liquor have not shown signs of stopping due to the price hike; instead, it has resulted in further straining the household savings.

During South First‘s visit to families in villages near Mangalagiri, M Sirisha, a nurse with two young children, stated that her family survived only on her earnings. Her husband, a daily contract worker, spent his earnings at retail liquor shops.

An emotional Srisha said that her family now has a debt of ₹10 lakh, and although a ban on alcohol might not have augmented savings, it could have at least avoided the debt trap.

Sirisha’s mother-in-law, suffering from cancer, said her husband was also addicted to liquor. She expressed fear that her 10-year-old grandson, too, might tread the same path.

In multiple shops in Vijayawada and Guntur, South First asked those purchasing liquor if there was any change in their consumption habits due to the price hike.

They expressed regret about receiving ‘poor’-quality liquor for a higher price, but increased price was not a grave issue.

Dr Neeli Umajyothy, a professor and the head of the Department of Psychiatry at Guntur Government Hospital, stated that most people undergoing de-addiction treatment came from the economically weaker sections of society.

“Cost was not a factor even earlier, as many would sell off their land and other belongings for liquor. The price hike may not deter addicts from buying liquor,” she said.

Also Read:  Opposition fury erupts over Karnataka liquor licences, drought relief

When alcohol downs lives, women want ban

M Kumari, 55, from the Gundimeda village at Tadepalli near Vijayawada, said she would vote only for a party that would make efforts to restrict liquor.

She married at the age of 14 to M Nageswar Rao, an alcoholic. Her life took a turn for the worse after mothering three children, and her future seemed bleak due to the lack of earnings.

Working as a farm labourer and raising buffaloes to make both ends meet, she had lost her husband and couldn’t prevent her elder son M Yesu Babu from following in his father’s footsteps.

Yesu Babu remained addicted despite multiple requests for him to stop. His life came to a tragic end in 2018 at the age of 30 due to excessive alcohol consumption, causing organ failure.

55 year old woman M. Kumari from Gundimeda village, Tadepalli.

M Kumari, 55, from Gundimeda village, Tadepalli.

Similar cases exist in the village, with residents unaware of de-addiction centres.

Recently, 33-year-old Sheikh Kanna Saheb in Gudivada town near Vijayawada hanged himself after his wife refused to give him ₹500 to buy alcohol.

In Tadepalligudem, 45-year-old Gummed Rama Krishna, facing personal grief as his wife had left him, consumed alcohol for several months in 2023 and was admitted to a government hospital in Kakinada in the first week of January this year. Despite doctors’ efforts, his life could not be saved as his internal organs failed.

Many others were leading their families into a debt trap and jeopardising their lives by consuming alchohol. Most are unaware of de-addiction centres; in fact, they heard of such facilities only when South First mentioned them.

A group of women near the Vijayawada Press Club favoured a ban on alcohol. They disliked their husbands spending hundreds of rupees every day at liquor shops.

However, they said they felt the ban was unlikely to happen, as all parties were favouring the sale of liquor.

Lakshmana Reddy, Dr Neeli Umajyothy, and Malyadri concurred that a one-time ban was not feasible in the state.

It would require the collective efforts — in the form of education, awareness, and campaigns — of the entire society to gradually eliminate liquor addiction. Any initiatives lacking these elements were likely to fall short, they said.

It would be interesting to see how the YSRCP would approach the liquor policy in its manifesto, as it seemed to differ significantly from the ground reality. Meanwhile, the TDP, led by Naidu, which had once lifted the ban, took a U-turn and failed to implement it. They have now promised quality liquor at a lower price, contradicting the directive principles of the state policy.