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Tumult in AP assembly as state says goodbye to prohibition

M S Shanker in Hyderabad

Amidst high voltage drama, the 18-month-old Telugu Desam Party government succeeded in pushing through the Andhra Pradesh Prohibition (Amendment) Bill, 1997, in the state assembly on Wednesday, with the help of the brute majority it enjoys there.

The much-talked about Bill, which seeks to relax the total prohibition in the state introduced by former chief minister Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, provides for the sale and manufacture of Indian Made Foreign Liquor and toddy, even while continuing the ban on arrack.

It will come into force from April 1. Sources say the Andhra Pradesh Brewerage Corporation will be responsible for the wholesale distribution of IMFL. In rural areas, the government proposes to auction the retail liquor shops. The Bill prohibits all bars and restaurants from serving liquor.

The Bill was passed by an overwhelming majority of 184 against 59.

When state Excise Minister Nattem Raghuram rose to present the Bill he was met with stiff resistance from Opposition members -- all solidly on their feet and shouting -- which ultimately ended in the suspension of four Telugu Desam Party (Lakshmi Sivaparvati faction) members.

It was TDP's founder NTR's widow Lakshmi Sivaparvati who led the in-House agitations, rushing to Speaker Yanamala Ramakrishnudu's podium and heaping abuses on the treasury benches for deviating from her husband's policies.

''You just cannot do this to Anna (Rama Rao). People gave him such a massive mandate because he promised them total prohibition," she was heard screaming through her tears.

Parvati later heeded Congress leader Gada Venkat Reddy's advise to oppose the Bill in a democratic way, and gave up her vigil near the speaker's podium.

While introducing the Bill Raghuram admitted the government's failure to implement 'total prohibition' in the state. "Despite our best efforts, the prohibition-related offenses, particularly illicit distillation and smuggling, have been steadily increasing in the state," he said .

The government, hence, had come to the 'painful conclusion' that the Prohibition Act, 1995, needed to be modified to bring it 'in tune with ground realities.'

The entire Opposition blamed Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu for going back on his party's electoral promises. "Naidu has no moral right to continue in office," Congress legislature party floor leader P Janardhan Reddy says.

Parvati, on her part, has urged state Governor Krishna Kant to use his discretionary powers to reject the Bill. She has threatened to go back to the people and explain how Naidu has deceived their Anna.

Meanwhile, pro-prohibition groups led by veteran freedom fighter Vavila Gopalkrishnaiah and Malladi Subbamma believe that the governor would not give his assent to the controversial Bill.

Naidu, however, holds that this will not happen. ''All my proposals have the people's consent. Otherwise, would they have voted so overwhelmingly for my party?" he argues.

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