The CBI on Friday raided the home of Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and 20 other locations in connection with the Delhi Excise Policy as the agency claimed that Rs 1 crore had allegedly been paid to a company belonging to a close associate of the AAP politician.
The AAP condemned the raids with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal claiming the agency has been ”asked from above” to harass its leaders. The BJP asked the Delhi government to come out clean on its excise policy.
The CBI, which registered an FIR in a special court here on Wednesday, began its raids from 8 AM in seven states including the residence of Sisodia who immediately tweeted about the arrival of the sleuths and ”welcomed” the move.
The CBI had registered a case on Wednesday naming Sisodia and 14 others in its FIR filed under various sections of the Indian Penal Code including 120-B (Criminal Conspiracy), 477-A (falsification of records) and section 7 of Prevention of Corruption Act which deals with taking undue advantage to influence public servant by corrupt or illegal means or by exercise of personal influence.
The searches at the AAP leader’s home, the residence of IAS officer and former excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna and 19 other places came after Lt Governor of Delhi Vinai Kumar Saxena requested for a CBI probe for alleged irregularities in the formulation and execution of the Delhi Excise Policy brought out in November last year, officials said.
The premises of two other public servants were also searched, the officials said.
Sisodia, Krishna, former deputy excise commissioner Anand Kumar Tiwari, assistant excise commissioner Pankaj Bhatnagar, Amit Arora, Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey, named as ”close associates” of the Deputy Chief Minister have been named in the FIR.
Six other businessmen and two companies have also been named as accused.
According to the CBI, a liquor trader paid Rs 1 crore to a company managed by an associate of the Deputy Chief Minister whom the agency has alleged of taking decisions pertaining to excise policy for the year 2021-22 without approval of competent authority with ”an intention to extend undue favours to the licencees post tender”.
The FIR gave some bank transactions but none of them were directly naming Sisodia.
It said Vijay Nair, former CEO of Only Much Louder, an entertainment and event management company, Manoj Rai, Ex-employee of Pernod Ricard, Amandeep Dhal, owner of Brindco Spirits and Sameer Mahendru, owner of Indo Spirits are actively involved in irregularities in framing and implementation of excise policy of GNCTD of Delhi for the year 2021-22.
The agency has alleged that the FIR named accused Amit Arora, Director of Buddy Retail Pvt. Limited in Gurgaon, Dinesh Arora of Gujrawala Town, Delhi and Arjun Pandey are close associates of Sisodia and are actively involved in managing and diverting the undue pecuniary advantage collected from liquor licensees to accused public servants.
The CBI has alleged that Radha Industries managed by Dinesh Arora received one crore from Mahendru.
”Source further revealed that Arun Ramchandra Pillai used to collect undue pecuniary advantage from Sameer Mahendru for onward transmission to accused public servant Vijay Nair. A person named Arjun Pandey has once collected a huge cash amount of about Rs.2-4 crores from Sameer Mahendru on behalf of Vijay Nair,” it said.
In a related development, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) may initiate a money laundering investigation over the framing and execution of the AAP government’s excise policy.
As CBI teams fanned out across the country and AAP supporters gathered outside Sisodia’s central Delhi home, Kejriwal said there is no need to panic and the agency had been ”asked from above” to harass them.
”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 also been raids on many of our ministers and me also but nothing came out of those and nothing will come out this time as well,” he said at online briefing.
Hailing Sisodia as the world’s best education minister, Kejriwal also held up a front page story about ”Delhi’s education revolution” in the New York Times. Sisodia holds multiple portfolios, including excise and education.
Kejriwal’s deputy, at the proverbial centre of the storm, echoed the mood and said conspiracies will not break him nor deter his resolve to continue to work for good education.
”We are hardcore honest and are shaping the future of lakhs of children. It is very unfortunate that those who do good work in our country are harassed like this. That is why our country could not become the number one,” Sisodia said when the raids at his residence began.
As the political storm gathered strength, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur hit out at Delhi’s ruling party. Dubbing Sisodia an ”excuse minister”, Thakur said the issue is not about education but the excise policy.
”Today, the issue is of liquor licences and corruption involved in it. The minister concerned is Manish Sisodia. He reversed the excise policy the day the probe was handed over to the CBI. Why was this step taken, because there was corruption in the issuance of liquor licences,” Thakur said.
Adding its voice to the debate, the Congress said the ”relentless misuse” of agencies against political rivals erodes their credibility and gives an opportunity even for the corrupt to get away.
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, officials said.
According to the, 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. The excise department gave a waiver of Rs 144.36 crore to the licensees on the tendered licence fee on the excuse of COVID-19, sources claimed. They added 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.
The Excise Policy 2021-22, formulated on the basis of an expert committee report, 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.
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 municipal corporations for violations of the Master Plan.