India Today - - COVER STORY -

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

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