Many people are still confused about whether the Telangana’s favorite beverage, Neera is named as an official beverage or not? The answer is yes, as per the CMO office, recently, the Telangana government commissioned and named Neera as its official drink. Actually, it was traditionally consumed across Telangana, this age-old sweet drink is now getting a much-needed renaissance.
As the sun rises, Manda Srinivas Goud sets off to work. Each morning, he climbs a nearby palm tree and comes down with fresh neera — a sweet beverage he sells to nearby locals.
Traditionally, this oyster white juice is consumed in all of Telangana’s districts. Even those living in cities see neera nostalgically, with memories of guzzling it down back home to quench the scorching summer heat. But now, things might get busier for workers like Srinivas, as the Telangana state is officially endorsing neera as a state-wide health drink.
Like Srinivas, Gouds across the state are a community of toddy-tappers who have been involved in this profession for generations. Previously, selling a glassful of neera meant these tappers needed to rise early. Because only three hours later, this fresh liquid ferments into toddy, an equally sought-after alcoholic drink. As Goud walks to sell the day’s batch to locals in Quthbullapur, a village in the Medchal-Malkajgiri district, he insists, “[The drink] is good for health. It has more demand in the summer season, as it soothes the body.”
Owing to this refreshing quality, especially after seeing the positive response neera received in Karnataka and Kerala, the Telangana state government and KT Rama Rao announced that they are taking steps to actively popularise the drink. In fact, an official visit was also planned to countries like Sri Lanka and Cambodia, where previous attempts to promote and store neera on a large scale have been successful. Although the full scope of the initiative hasn’t been revealed yet, the state’s initial plans involve stalls, outlets, and even a 13-crore government-run cafe.
“Selling neera has been a long-pending demand in Telangana,” opines senior analyst K Nageshwar. Traditionally, all districts of the state consume neera. Promoting it, he adds, means marginalised caste-based toddy tappers can expect more work and revenue in the future. Moreover, many districts — Nalgonda, Suryapet, Bhuvangiri, Warangal, Janagoan, and Yadagiri — have a dense cover of palm trees. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the livelihoods of several tappers took a hit as sales dwindled to a new low. Hence, the government’s latest plans offer a much-needed economic respite.
“There are about 3 lakh active toddy tappers in the Telangana state and neera cafes would definitely improve their livelihood”, says Palle Laxman Rao Goud, the state president of Telangana Goud Sangham. Many rebates, benefits, and support systems have also been put in place since then. Most notable is the initiative by the Palm Products Research and Development Institute (PRDI), which plans to package neera into handy commercial bottles.
Currently, this operation is being run from Kadthal Mandal, a small village in the Ranga Reddy district. As a toddy tapper descends with packets of clear juice, Satyam from PRDI explains how the first stage of filtering takes place. Frozen ice gel also has an important role in the whole process. As Vinod Goud, Director General of PRDI, says, these cool packs help PRDI prevent fermentation. At 4 degrees, neera can stay unfermented for up to five days. Otherwise, it becomes toddy with a 4% ABV. For now, PRDI claims their focus is on the unfermented version and their bottled product — Teneera — will hit markets very soon.
The government’s role in all this has been crucial too. Since toddy-tapping is a caste-based profession, officials announced that licences for production and sale would initially be given to members of the Goud community alone. Having extracted neera, often at great personal risk, this move is integral to ensuring their economic welfare.
Currently, the most exciting news for neera fans is the launch of the awaited state-run cafe. However, as it was gearing up to open at Hyderabad’s Necklace Road in 2023, a controversy broke out over possibly naming ‘a toddy shop’ after the Vedas. Supporters of the Goud community pointed out that the boycott of neera was hypocritical as many other products that ferment into alcohol — like wheat, barley, and grapes — aren’t subject to the same standards.
Still, there is some good news. It looks like the cafe is on track to open after all. With the foundation stone laid, the project is expected to contain nearly ten neera stalls and accommodate at least 250 people once opened. Srinivas Goud, the Minister for Excise revealed that the CM’s idea also involves setting up similar “neera centres” in almost every district in Telangana, starting with urban cities like Hyderabad and then expanding to rural areas. Other developments have also risen out of the government’s endorsement. For instance, a new method was developed by Osmania University, which can now store neera naturally for six months.
When Srinivas looked back on the disappearance of toddy trees a year ago, he wondered if he might be the last of his generation to dwell amid them. With only 30 trees left in his area, it was clear that neera’s future back then was at a crucial juncture. There is a long way to go before Telangana joins the ranks of other regions that have successfully commercialised the beverage. But with the state government’s active efforts, the future of neera looks more promising than ever. #hydnews #khabarlive #hydlive