A whopping 50,000 unauthorised liquor vends or 'belt shops' still exist in Andhra Pradesh, three years after the state government ordered closure of all such outlets.
An Andhra Pradesh minister confirmed the existence of 50,000 'belt shops' in the state but asserted the TDP government is committed to fulfil its promising of closing down all such vends.
The number of authorised liquor outlets in the state is 4,380 and bars is 831, according to excise and prohibition department officials.
The unauthorised liquor vends, popularly known as belt shops, run as affiliates to the authorised outlets and contribute over Rs 300 crore to Rs 400 crore to the exchequer, they said.
Immediately after taking oath as Chief Minister on June 8, 2014, N Chandrababu Naidu signed a file ordering immediate closure of all belt shops in the state.
The government's argument is that the number of such shops has come down drastically from the days of the Congress rule.
"From over three lakhs during the previous Congress regime, in the last three years we have brought down the number of (belt shops) to 50,000. We are fulfilling the promise in this regard," Industries Minister N Amarnath Reddy claimed.
Information Technology Minister and Naidu's son Nara Lokesh's Twitter account was flooded with complaints in recent days that belt shops have become a menace in several villages.
Women in several districts came out on streets agitating against the new liquor policy and also demanding that belt shops be shut down.
All this forced the government to admit that belt shops still existed in the state.
Typically, a local grocery store or a pan shop in a village acts as a belt shop where certain quantity of liquor is stored and sold. An authorised store supplies liquor to several such belt shops in villages nearby.
When a liquor scam broke out in 2012 (in united AP), the TDP, then in opposition, vowed to fight the liquor mafia by eliminating all belt shops.
The issue was discussed at the state Cabinet meeting two days ago and the chief minister ordered a crackdown on all belt shops.
Naidu set a month's deadline for their closure and directed police and excise authorities to send those running illicit vends to jail.