Speaking in the Lok Sabha on the murder of a Dalit youth at the farmhouse of Akali leader Shiv Lal Doda, when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi accused the Punjab government of “patronising” liquor barons, he perhaps did not know how his own party’s legislators also vie for a share in the state’s flourishing alcohol business.
Key accused Amit Doda, Shiv Lal’s nephew, has told the police after his arrest on Sunday that on the day of the murder, he was at a business meeting with Congress MLA Rana Gurmeet Sodhi at a New Delhi hotel. However, Sodhi claims to have encountered the duo by chance during his “business meeting” with Rajinder Chadha, younger brother of liquor baron Ponty Chadha, who was killed in a shootout at his farmhouse in Delhi.
Business or chance meeting, the Abohar case has laid bare the liquor connection between Punjab’s politically influential, cutting across party lines. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) records suggest that Sodhi’s two sons, Raghumit and Anumit Sodhi, are directors of Savera Beverages, incorporated on February 8, 2008. In 2006, during the fag-end of the Captain Amarinder Singh government, the company was granted a liquor factory licence. After the SAD romped home in the 2007 state elections, Anumit claims the licence was not renewed. It was renewed in 2010 after payment of Rs 1 crore fee, he adds.
After the 2012 state elections, the company bought 28 acres for a distillery at Fazilka’s Hiranwali village. The 100 kilo-litre per day project entailed an investment of Rs 220 crore through bank loan and internal accruals. Savera Beverages has the necessary clearances, the civil work expected to commence by May 2014 is yet to take off, and the company is learnt to be scouting for investors. Sodhi, when contacted, said the company belongs to his son, Raghumit, and he has no link with the business. “I do not interfere in the business of my sons. And we have no link, business or otherwise, with Shiv Lal Doda or Amit Doda. I met them on December 11 in a Delhi hotel during a meeting with Rajinder Chadha,” the Congressman said.
Some Akali MLAs say Sodhi was frequent visitor to the Delhi residence of Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who also heads the excise and taxation department that grants liquor business licences. Asked to react, Sodhi said the Akali MLAs who said he met Sukhbir frequently should know better about it.
The distillery was first proposed to be on a 20-acre land in Jalalabad, which now has a school. Shiv Lal Doda, say Congress sources, funded the elections of not just Akalis but also Congress leaders. He is on the run since the filing of the Abohar murder case.