In its FIR into alleged irregularities in Delhi's Excise Policy 2021-22, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has named Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia as an accused and has alleged that a liquor trader paid Rs 1 crore to a company managed by an associate of Sisodia.
Earlier on Friday, the CBI carried out searches at 21 locations across seven states and Union territories, including the Delhi residence of Sisodia. Besides Sisodia, the CBI has named 15 people in its FIR registered on August 17 under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections related to criminal conspiracy and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
In addition to Sisodia, who holds the excise portfolio in Delhi Cabinet, the CBI has named as accused then excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna, then deputy excise commissioner Anand Kumar Tiwari, assistant excise commissioner Pankaj Bhatnagar, nine businessmen, and two companies.
The FIR was registered on a reference from the office of Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena routed through the Union Home Ministry.
What are CBI's allegations?
The CBI has alleged that Sisodia and other accused public servants recommended and took decisions pertaining to the excise policy 2021-22 without the approval of competent authority with "an intention to extend undue favours to the licencees post tender".
It said Vijay Nair, former CEO of Only Much Louder, an entertainment and event management company; Manoj Rai, former employee of Pernod Ricard; Amandeep Dhal, owner of Brindco Spirits; and Sameer Mahendru, owner of Indospirits were actively involved in irregularities in the framing and implementation of the excise policy brought in November last year.
The CBI has alleged Amit Arora, Director of Buddy Retail Pvt. Limited in Gurgaon, Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey are "close associates" of Sisodia and were "actively involved in managing and diverting the undue pecuniary advantage collected from liquor licensees" for the accused public servants.
The CBI has alleged that Radha Industries managed by Dinesh Arora received Rs 1 crore from Sameer Mahendru of Indospirits.
"Source further revealed that Arun Ramchandra Pillai used to collect undue pecuniary advantage from Sameer Mahendru for onward transmission to the accused public servants through Vijay Nair. A person named Arjun Pandey has once collected a huge cash amount of about Rs 2-4 crore from Sameer Mahendru on behalf of Vijay Nair," it said.
The agency alleged that Sunny Marwah's Mahadev Liquors was granted L-1 licence under the policy. It also alleged that Marwah, who was on the board of firms of the deceased liquor baron Ponty Chadha, was in close contact with the accused public servants and regularly paid bribes to them.
Why is CBI conducting investigating?
Last month, Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena had recommended a CBI probe into Delhi government's Excise Policy 2021-22 over alleged violations of rules and procedural lapses.
The CBI inquiry was recommended on the findings of the Delhi Chief Secretary's report filed in July showing prima facie violations of the GNCTD Act 1991, Transaction of Business Rules (ToBR)-1993, Delhi Excise Act-2009 and Delhi Excise Rules-2010, said officials.
According to officials, the report had shown prima facie violations, including "deliberate and gross procedural lapses", to provide post-tender "undue benefits to liquor licensees" through the policy. They added that a copy of the report was also sent to the chief minister.
Apart from this there were also "deliberate and gross procedural lapses" to provide post tender "undue benefits to liquor licensees", said the officials.
What's the excise policy?
The Excise Policy 2021-22 was formulated on the basis of an expert committee report. It was implemented from November 17 last year and retail licences were issued under it to private bidders for 849 vends across the city, divided into 32 zones.
Several of its provisions such as slashing the number of dry days to three from 21 per year, the government's exit from retail liquor sale, allowing bars in hotels and restaurants to stay open till 3 am (awaiting police permission) and the retail licensees to offer rebates and schemes on alcohol were implemented by the excise department.
However, under the policy, many liquor stores failed to open for being located in non-conforming areas of the city. Several such vends were sealed by the municipal corporations for violations of the Master Plan.
The excise department had given a waiver of Rs 144.36 crore to the licensees on the tendered licence fee on the excuse of Covid-19, the sources claimed, adding that it also refunded the earnest money of Rs 30 crore to the lowest bidder for the licence of the airport zone when it failed to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from airport authorities.
"It was in gross violation of rule 48(11)(b) of the Delhi Excise Rules, 2010, which clearly stipulates that the successful bidder must complete all formalities for the grant of the licence, failing which all deposits made by him shall stand forfeited to the government," one of the sources had said.
How has the AAP reacted?
Aam Aadmi Party convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday said the CBI raid at his colleague’s house was the result of their good performance which is being appreciated globally. He said there were CBI raids before and nothing will come this time as well.
"The day Delhi's Education model was appreciated and Manish Sisodia's photo appeared on the front page of America's biggest newspaper NYT, the Centre sent CBI at the residence of Manish."
जिस दिन अमेरिका के सबसे बड़े अख़बार NYT के फ़्रंट पेज पर दिल्ली शिक्षा मॉडल की तारीफ़ और मनीष सिसोदिया की तस्वीर छपी, उसी दिन मनीष के घर केंद्र ने CBI भेजी— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) August 19, 2022
CBI का स्वागत है। पूरा cooperate करेंगे। पहले भी कई जाँच/रेड हुईं। कुछ नहीं निकला। अब भी कुछ नहीं निकलेगा https://t.co/oQXitimbYZ
Sisodia in a series of tweets said the CBI is welcome.
हम सीबीआई का स्वागत करते हैं. जाँच में पूरा सहयोग देंगे ताकि सच जल्द सामने आ सके. अभी तक मुझ पर कई केस किए लेकिन कुछ नहीं निकला. इसमें भी कुछ नहीं निकलेगा. देश में अच्छी शिक्षा के लिए मेरा काम रोका नहीं जा सकता.— Manish Sisodia (@msisodia) August 19, 2022
सीबीआई आई है. उनका स्वागत है. हम कट्टर ईमानदार हैं . लाखों बच्चों का भविष्य बना रहे हैं.— Manish Sisodia (@msisodia) August 19, 2022
बहुत ही दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण है कि हमारे देश में जो अच्छा काम करता है उसे इसी तरह परेशान किया जाता है. इसीलिए हमारा देश अभी तक नम्बर-1 नहीं बन पाया.
In an apparent swipe at the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Union government, Kejriwal also said that the "CBI has been asked from above" to pursue them.
Kejriwal mentioned the recent coverage by The New York Times newspaper of Delhi's schools and said the "biggest newspaper wrote about Delhi’s education revolution".
He added, "It is a matter of pride for the country that Manish Sisodia's name is on the front page of the biggest newspaper of the most powerful country in the world. In a way, he has been declared as the best education minister in the world. The biggest newspaper wrote about Delhi’s education revolution and carried Sisodia's photograph also."
Kejriwal said the last time India's name featured in The New York Times was over mass deaths happening in the country duto Covid-19.
Talking about the CBI raids on Friday at Sisodia’s house, Kejriwal said they are not scared and there were raids against his other ministers, Kailash Gahlot and Satyendar Jain, too but nothing came out of them.
He said, "Many obstacles will be created in our path in our mission. This is not the first raid on Sisodia. There were raids in the past too. There have been raids also on many of our ministers and me too, but nothing came out of them and nothing will come out this time as well. There is no need to panic since there will be obstacles to stop our work. The CBI has been asked from above to harass us."
Jain is currently in judicial custody in connection with a money laundering case by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
(With PTI inputs)