A conversation with Anand Vijay Jha, a former regulator, who has switched sides to head public policy at United Breweries. He talks to Freny Patel about taking on the challenging task of changing the negative social perception of alcohol among policymakers in India’s 28 states and convincing them to tax beer at a lower rate than hard liquor

Meet Anand Vijay Jha, head of public policy at United Breweries, a company known best for its famous Kingfisher beer.

A lawyer by profession, Jha is no stranger to policymaking and execution, having worked with various ministries, departments and regulatory bodies, including as additional director of investigations at the Competition Commission of India (CCI).

Armed with his investigative expertise, and an understanding of regulators and the challenges in their thinking, Jha has been working to bring about much-needed policy change and predictability in the alcoholic beverages industry.

Trouble is always brewing in India’s liquor industry, challenged by high taxation, double standards and unfavourable government policies. That’s especially so when it comes to beer because each of India’s 28 states have their own set of regulations.

Spearheading public policy and government relations among his various key responsibilities, Jha tells India Business Law Journal’s Freny Patel that he has already seen a transformation in the mindset of some state governments when advocating a policy change based on evidence. After all, it is a tightrope walk for state governments having to balance the need to raise revenue through excise, while at the same time, not wanting to be perceived as promoting liquor.

Q. After two decades in government service, what made you decide to join the private sector?

As a policymaker and executor for two decades, my canvas was quite broad. I worked in transportation, supply chain management, land conveyancing, national security and capacity building of civil servants. As an antitrust regulator, I investigated several Fortune 500 companies. My inquisitiveness for understanding the business decision-making process from inside kept increasing. I wanted to work in the private sector as a policy influencer and create a more equitable playing field. However, my dilemma while switching to the private sector was the image formed as a public servant that the private sector is focused on profit and could do things that are not ethical. The solution I reached is that I should only join a company known for its ethical ways of doing business. That is how I chose Walmart because it is recognised globally for being ethical.

Later, when due to the multi-brand foreign direct investment policy restriction and increasing competition in the retail sector, Walmart decided to consolidate its business to Flipkart and exit the Indian market, I had to take another call. There was an opportunity to join Flipkart, which is a leading ecommerce player in India. However, as a public policy professional, I assessed that I was keener to learn more about the state level policy challenges thus making alcobev a natural choice. I was looking for a larger canvas, and the opportunity came in this industry, which I realised was full of regulatory challenges.

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