L-G calls for CBI probe into Delhi excise policy | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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L-G calls for CBI probe into Delhi excise policy

By, New Delhi
Jul 23, 2022 07:36 AM IST

The complaint sent by the LG contends that several procedures were tweaked in order to benefit private liquor barons and individuals, and that an investigation must be carried out to find kickbacks, according to people in Saxena’s office, who pointed fingers at the “highest echelons of the government leading up to deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia”.

Lieutenant governor (LG) VK Saxena recommended that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) open an investigation into the Delhi government’s excise policy, starting a major new confrontation on Friday with the elected government of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who said the move was a ploy to implicate his deputy in a false case and try to halt his party’s growing popularity.

The BJP welcomed the LG’s decision on Friday, and raised the issues flagged in the complaint to the AAP.(HT file photo. Representative image)
The BJP welcomed the LG’s decision on Friday, and raised the issues flagged in the complaint to the AAP.(HT file photo. Representative image)

The complaint sent by the LG contends that several procedures were tweaked in order to benefit private liquor barons and individuals, and that an investigation must be carried out to find kickbacks, according to people in Saxena’s office, who pointed fingers at the “highest echelons of the government leading up to deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia”.

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Sisodia is also the excise minister in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led administration and steered the 2021-22 excise policy, which was introduced in November 2021. The policy overhauled the Capital’s liquor market and fetched the state government 8,919.59 crore, close to 27% higher than the base price set by the government for licence bids. It also aimed at making the process of purchasing liquor more consumer-friendly.

Reacting to the development, chief minister Kejriwal said on Friday that the entire case is “false” and “baseless”. “There is no truth to any of the allegations. Sisodia is an honest politician. Sisodia has given hope to crores of children in the country that government schools can also be world-class,” he said.

“We are not scared of jail. You (BJP) are the children of Savarkar, who apologised to the British rule. We are the children of Bhagat Singh, who refused to bow down before the Britishers and sacrificed his life for the country,” he said at a press briefing on Friday.

Officials in the LG office, Raj Niwas, said that they expect a probe by the federal agency will unearth “the nefarious game being played at the cost of the people of Delhi and ascertain the quantum of kickbacks received by the AAP government and its leaders, as also the use of this money to influence the Punjab elections”.

The complaint was based on a report filed by the chief secretary Naresh Kumar on July 8. “It (one of the decisions) was done so with the sole aim of benefitting private liquor barons in lieu of financial benefits to individuals at the highest level leading up to the minister in-charge of excise & finance,” said the report by Kumar, parts of which was seen by HT on Friday.

Officials in the LG office did not go into any specific allegation of money being exchanged. Instead, they outlined seven decisions that were flagged in Kumar’s report and said were in violation of rules and procedures that were done in a way that appeared to benefit individuals and entities in the liquor business.

The LG’s office did not respond to requests for a comment and a copy of the complaint was not accessible.

The seven issues included a refund of 30 crore to a bidder, a tweak in the calculation of a levy on imported beer, the purported relaxations in provisions in tender documents for private retail licensees, the waiving off of 144.36 crore of licence fee due to the pandemic lockdown, and allowing bid winners to open alternate vends in some vends.

A person in Raj Niwas, who asked not to be named, also said that the moves had “full political patronage”. “Subsequently, Sisodia got the cabinet to take a decision authorising him to make ‘minor changes’… in the interest of its implementation. However, despite this cabinet decision being flagged negatively by the then LG (Anil Baijal) and a subsequent cabinet decision withdrawing its earlier decision of ‘authorising’ Sisodia, the decisions under question continued to be brazenly implemented by the excise department,” this person said.

The official added that when the chief secretary started inquiring the matter and sent a note to the chief minister to draft his report, the cabinet “hurriedly” tried to get those decisions legalised on July 14 through a “post facto” cabinet decision.

Kejriwal, in his response rebutting the allegations, said, “There are three reasons why they (BJP) are after the AAP: First, because we are honest. Second, because ever since AAP won in Punjab, they want to stall our expanding footprint across the country. Third, they want to stall the good works being done by us (AAP) in Delhi”.

Sisodia said in the coming days more such “false cases” will be registered against AAP leaders. “Modi is very afraid of Kejriwal. People have become disillusioned with Modi. Now the country has hope only from Kejriwal. As AAP’s influence grows across the country, there will be many more false cases. But now no jail can stop Kejriwal and AAP,” Sisodia said in a tweet in Hindi.

AAP leader Sanjay Singh, too, attacked the Centre, saying: “PM Modi is never able to find Lalit Modi, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi. Vijay Mallya ran away with 10,000 crore, Nitin Sandesara with 6,000 crore. DHFL gave BJP a donation of 27 crore and did a scam of 34,000 crore. Modi’s agencies cannot catch them, but are after honest leaders like Sisodia and Satyendar Jain who have improved Delhi’s education and health systems”.

This is the latest in a series of confrontations that began shortly after Saxena took over as the new LG. Earlier this week, he denied a request by the government to allow the chief minister to attend a summit in Singapore, and has in the past held meetings with department staff, a move the administration said amounted to meddling in the government’s functioning.

On July 5, during the Delhi assembly’s two-day monsoon session, Kejriwal, while referring to the investigations and actions by central government agencies on AAP legislators, alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was trying to arrest Sisodia by the end of August.

“Now, they’re threatening to arrest Sisodia by the end of August. He (Sisodia) has given a bright future to 18 lakh children of Delhi. I am giving an open challenge to the BJP, which has 19 states under its rule. All your 19 states on one side and Delhi on the other. We will show 10 schools under our control. You can show 10 schools under yours,” the AAP chief said at the time.

Kumar’s report, on which the LG’s complaint was based, claimed that the new policy appeared to violate the Transaction of Business Rules (ToBR) 1993 of the Government of NCT of Delhi Act. It mentioned that the violations were indicative of financial quid pro quo at top political levels, wherein major decisions were taken and actions were executed in violation of statutory provisions.

Kumar is empowered under the ToBR 1993 to flag any deviation from laid down procedures to the LG and the chief minister. His report on the alleged irregularities in the Delhi Excise policy 2021-22 was sent to CM Kejriwal as well.

The BJP welcomed the LG’s decision on Friday, and raised the issues flagged in the complaint to the AAP. “The AAP government violated rules and procedures to promote cartelisation to benefit liquor companies in Delhi,” said Union minister and New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi.

Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta said: “This policy has been made to favour a few firms. We have been opposing it from day one. Tomorrow, we will hold a massive protest in Delhi against the government.”

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