Telangana is unwaveringly focused on earnings from liquor, oblivious to any adverse impact the policy might have revenues, changing lifestyles, and Hyderabad emerging as a global destination,” says excise commissioner R.V. Chandravadan, about the new policy.
A pub culture is also being promoted, 20 micro breweries have so far got permits to serve beer on tap and six new distilleries are on the anvil even as capacities are being added to existing facilities. At the same time, Telangana has doubled the fee it collects from the liquor industry, from one rupee to two rupees a litre.
Industry sources complain that while Telangana has increased its liquor revenues, manufacturers are being denied their due—there has been no revision in prices since 2012. The state also seems unworried, unlike many others, that this ‘liberal’ approach to the consumption of alcohol could become a handicap, vis-a-vis votebank politics. Indeed, on a recent visit to the US, the uninhibited Padma Rao even posed for photographs holding bottles in a mall.
Social activist V. Lakshma Reddy is troubled by those developments. “Telangana has even ignored an SC mandate that all liquor shops within 100 metres of the highway be shifted to internal roads by December 31 last year to discourage drunken driving,” he laments. The impact has been alarming. Drunken driving is on the rise though the police are active with their breathalysers, car seizures and fines. “While 55,000-odd cases were booked in 2015, we have booked 2.67 lakh cases of drunk driving in the first five months of this year,” says joint transport commissioner B. Venkateshwarlu. Indeed, it took a horrifying accident on July 1 in which three people, three generations of a family, were killed when their car was hit by another with a few inebriated youth (including one at the wheel without a licence) for the government to wake up.
“There is need for a stern law to punish drunk drivers,” says P. Radhika, mother of the youngest victim Ramya, 10, who is still recovering from a fractured thigh and requires plastic surgery on her face. Consequently, the excise authorities have closed a Thank God It’s Friday outlet, while city bars keep breathalysers at hand to caution tipplers driving in an inebriated state. “We have been orally cautioned about cancellation of bar licences if we don’t follow guidelines to ensure ‘safe drinking’,” says a bar owner. He says it’s embarrassing to ask patrons who among them is staying off liquor as a ‘designated driver’, or ask about taxi bookings, or, worse still, asking tipplers to show proof of age.
—by Amarnath K. Menon