Andhra Pradesh is set to go dry in phases as Chief Minister-designate Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy appears determined to implement prohibition, one of his major election promises.
As the young leader is scheduled to take oath as Chief Minister on May 30, all eyes will be on the first file he will sign.
The YSR Congress Party chief has remained non-committal on the first orders he will give but said implementing ‘Navaratnalu’ (nine gems) will be his priority. Prohibition was one of the nine welfare schemes promised by his party during the campaign.
Storming to power with a landslide victory, YSRCP is now facing a challenge in banning alcohol, given the failed experiment in undivided Andhra Pradesh and the strain the move may impose on the state’s already fragile economy.
Financial assistance to farmers, students’ fee reimbursement, health insurance, construction of irrigation projects, increase in social security pension and prohibition were among Jagan’s ‘Navaratnalu’.
While implementation of eight schemes requires mobilization of additional resources to the tune of Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 crore, prohibition requires the government to give up a source of revenue.
For 2019-20, the state had set a target of Rs 7,358 crore excise duty, which is levied on sale of alcohol. The revenue from excise duty was Rs 5,789 crore in the previous year.
Jagan, as the young leader is popularly known, revealed two days ago that the state was running on overdraft. Debt servicing, including interest payment, alone is costing Rs 40,000 crore to the exchequer annually.
It was during his record-breaking 3,600-km long ‘padyatra’ that Jagan had promised prohibition. When women in some villages explained to him the problems they face from alcohol-addicted husbands, he said if voted to power YSRCP would impose prohibition.
He also remarked that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was considering liquor merely a source of income while it actually amounted to doing business with the ‘blood and flesh’ of the people.
The YSRCP chief also observed that alcohol consumption was one of the main reasons for the deteriorating financial and health conditions of lakhs of families.
“The income derived from spoiling lives of lakhs of families wouldn’t augur well for anyone, let alone for a government,” he had said.
Showing that he is a leader who stands by his word, Jagan told his maiden press conference that he will not seek votes in 2024 if he failed to limit the sale of liquor to five-star hotels.
He asked Jana Chaitanya Vedika (JCV) State President V. Lakshmana Reddy to prepare a report for the implementation of prohibition and submit it to the government. The NGO wants the government to take over the retail business to cut down the supply.
Jagan plans to implement prohibition in phases.
Under the first phase, he proposes to increase awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol and reduce the number of liquor shops.
In the second phase, taxes on liquor will be increased to discourage the poor and middle class from buying it.
Under the third and final phase, alcohol will be available only in five-star hotels and those found brewing or selling liquor will be jailed.
Jagan is not the first Telugu leader to promise prohibition.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) founder N.T. Rama Rao implemented total prohibition immediately after taking oath as the Chief Minister in 1994.
NTR had made the election promise after a massive women’s movement against liquor. However, the move led to bootlegging and smuggling of liquor from neighbouring states.
NTR’s son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu, who took over the reins of power after leading a revolt against him in 1995, lifted the prohibition later on the ground that it failed to achieve its objective.
After that no other Chief Minister, including Jagan’s father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, touched this subject.