Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday mounted a strong defence of his deputy Manish Sisodia after Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena recommended a CBI probe into the AAP government’s Excise Policy 2021-22 over alleged violations of rules and procedural lapses. The Delhi government’s excise department is headed by Sisodia.
The new excise policy was implemented from November 17 last year under which retail licences were given to private bidders for 849 vends across the city divided into 32 zones. The BJP and Congress had vociferously opposed the policy and lodged complaint with the L-G as well as central agencies for a probe into it.
In a virtual press conference, Kejriwal alleged that the L-G’s recommendation is part of a political vendetta against the Aam Aadmi Party and speculated that Sisodia could be arrested soon. “I know he (Manish Sisodia) would be arrested soon. I knew this months ago. The country has a new system now. They decide who to send to jail and then a made-up case is presented,” the Delhi CM said.
Lashing out at the BJP which rules at the Centre, Kejriwal compared AAP to Bhagat Singh and alleged parallels between the saffron party and Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar who wrote apology letters to the British. “You are all Savarkar ki aulaad who fear jail. We are Bhagat Singh ki aulad, we don’t fear jails,” Kejriwal said.
“The whole case is false. I have known Sisodia for the past 22 years. He is honest. When he became minister, Delhi government schools were in poor condition. He worked day and night to bring them to the level where a judge’s child and a rickshaw driver’s child sit together to study,” the AAP convenor added.
Allegations Against Sisodia
L-G Saxena has recommended a CBI probe based on the Delhi Chief Secretary’s report filed earlier this month, showing prima facie violations of GNCTD Act 1991, Transaction of Business Rules (ToBR)-1993, Delhi Excise Act-2009 and Delhi Excise Rules-2010.
Sisodia faces allegations of financial quid pro quo in executing major decisions around the excise policy which reportedly huge financial implications. According to reports, he is accused of extending undue financial favours to liquor licencees after the tenders had been awarded.
The Excise Department reportedly gave a waiver of Rs 144.36 crore to the licencees on the tendered licence fee citing the pandemic as an excuse. A PTI report said it also allegedly refunded earnest money of Rs 30 crore to the lowest bidder of the licence of Airport Zone, despite failing to obtain NOC from the airport authorities. Such a move violated Rule 48(11)(b) of the Delhi Excise Rules, 2010, which stipulate that the successful bidder must complete all formalities for grant of licence, failing which all deposits made by him shall stand forfeited to the government.
Reports further say that under Sisodia, the excise department, in its November 8, 2021 order, revised the formula of calculation of rates of foreign liquor and removed the levy of import pass fee of Rs 50 per case on beer “without approval of the competent authority”, making it cheaper for retailers and causing loss of revenue to the state exchequer.
The AAP government is also accused of attempting to legalise “these illegal decisions” by getting the stamp of a post facto Cabinet decision as recently as on July 14, “which in itself was in violation of laid down rules and procedures”.
War of Words
The excise duty has been the subject of political mudslinging between the AAP, BJP and Congress since last year. The Aam Aadmi party has contended that central agencies like the CBI and ED will investigate against every minister of Delhi government to keep it at bay as the BJP is “scared” of Arvind Kejriwal since the AAP’s Punjab victory.
In a counterattack, Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta alleged on Friday that the new excise policy had benefitted the “liquor mafia”. “The process of certification of liquor has been tampered with. Dry days have been reduced from 21 to three days. Earlier, Kejriwal said alcohol destroys society, but he is promoting alcohol now just to help liquor mafia,” he said.
Gupta further alleged that the happiness classes started by the AAP government “is being organised to promote alcoholism among children and youth of the national capital”.
“Your (Kejriwal’s) double standards stand exposed. In Punjab, you say you will make the state ‘nasha-mukt’. In Delhi, you are promoting alcohol,” Gupta said, adding that the BJP will hold a massive protest against the new policy on Saturday.
In a controversial retort to the AAP, BJP MP from North-West Delhi Hans Raj Hans said the new excise policy will lead to women drinking more. After the new excise policy, ladies will also drink, it will go till late night.”
The lawmaker had passed similar comments against the new excise policy in February this year when he said women “would be seen passed out on the streets”.
“Pink theke se pee ke galiyon aur naaliyon mein agar koi gir gayin… achhi lagengi auratein aise jhoomti hui? (Would it be a good sight to see women getting drunk and passing out on the streets),” he had asked in comments criticised as sexist on social media.