The Andhra Pradesh government has started an exercise to review its Excise Policy after the liquor syndicate-politicians-officials nexus left the entire system shaken.
State excise minister Mopidevi Venkata Ramana, who escaped being axed despite getting caught in the centre of the controversy, admitted that the existing excise policy was flawed and needed revision.
"The current system of auction (of liquor shops) is flawed. It needs to be revised...we are on the job," Mopidevi told newsmen in Hyderabad on Thursday.
A team of senior excise department officials visited Tamil Nadu recently to study the excise policy in vogue there. The team would visit Kerala and Karantaka next for a similar study based on which the new AP policy would be drafted.
"The next round of auctions is due in June. So we should have a new policy in place before that," the minister added.
"Syndicates are neither new nor restricted to liquor trade alone. Syndicates exist in sand and other businesses as well," Mopidevi pointed out, in reply to a question, adding that several members of the liquor syndicate besides officials and men of the excise department were arrested by the state anti-corruption bureau for indulging in corrupt practices.
The liquor syndicates issue has been rocking Andhra Pradesh with the ACB bringing to light the involvement of Excise officials, politicians, liquor traders and even some lower rung journalists across the state. It is estimated that a staggering sum of over Rs 5,000 crore changes hands every year as the liquor traders flout all rules and sell the brands at exhorbitant rates.
State Congress president and transport minister Botsa Satyanarayana admitted his family members owned 27 per cent stake each in 31 liquor shops but denied being part of the liquor syndicate.
The ACB investigations revealed that not only the ruling Congress leaders but also many legislators and leaders from other parties, including main opposition Telugu Desam, were recipients of bribes from the liquor syndicates every year.
At a high-level review meeting with excise commissioner Sameer Sharma and other senior officials in Hyderabad, Mopidevi directed the department to step up the enforcement drive to ensure liquor was sold only at the maximum retail price fixed.
Referring to allegation that he received a bribe of Rs 10 lakh from a particular liquor syndicate member of Khammam district, Mopidevi said that every minister who held the excise portfolio faced one allegation or the other.
"Such allegations are not new..all my predecessors also faced many allegations."
Mopidevi had refused to quit his post after the ACB presented to court a confessional statement of a liquor syndicate member, Nunna Venkata Ramana, that he paid Rs 10 lakh to the minister as part of a "regular process."
Meanwhile, the minister was caught on the defensive on another ground after the Telugu Desam Party alleged that his son secured licence for selling a particular brand of beer in the state.
Admitting that he got a firm registered "for doing business" in June last year, the minister, however, claimed he had asked his son to withdraw from the proposal of entering the liquor business.
"Since I am the excise minister, I did not want my son to get into liquor business as it doesn't look good. We, in fact, got the license of our business firm revoked last year itself. Hence, the question of misusing my official position does not arise," Mopidevi said.