The CBI on Friday carried out searches at the office and residence of Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia after naming him in an FIR registered to probe allegations of irregularities in the union territory’s excise policy 2021-22.
The CBI, in its FIR registered on August 17, has alleged that Sisodia, former excise commissioner Arva Gopi Krishna, deputy commissioner (excise) Anand Tiwari and Assistant Commissioner (excise) Pankaj Bhatnagar were "instrumental in recommending and taking a decision pertaining to the excise policy for 2021-22, without the approval of competent authority (LG of Delhi) with an intention to extend undue favours to the lincencees post tender".
The CBI also alleged "illegal gains on account of these acts were diverted to concerned public servants by private parties".
Besides Sisodia's premises, the sleuths raided 30 other locations in Delhi, Gurugram, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Bengaluru, which had led to the recovery of incriminating documents, articles and digital records, said CBI officials.
The agency charged that Amit Arora, director of Buddy Retail Pvt Ltd., Dinesh Arora, a resident of Gujrawala, and Arjun Pandey are "close associates" of Sisodia and are "actively involved in managing and diverting undue pecuniary advantage collected from the liquor licensees to accused public servants". Besides them, four private persons, who have been named in the FIR, were actively involved in irregularities in framing and implementation of the excise policy.
The agency’s action was anticipated for long, but the trigger was Delhi LG Vinai Saxena recommending a CBI probe on July 20 into Delhi’s excise policy based on the chief secretary’s report that had cast a cloud on the role of deputy CM Sisodia, under whom the excise department falls.
"The Department allowed waiver on tendered licence fee on account of the Covid-19 pandemic during the period 28.12.2021 to 27.01.2022, despite the fact that no specific provision for compensation in the form of reduction in tendered licence fee was available in the tender document. This resulted in undue benefit to the licencee and a loss of about Rs 144.36 crore to the public exchequer," said the report.
The Delhi Excise Policy was launched last November, but was aborted after the LG ordered an inquiry into the liquor scam.
Similarly, the CBI said another waiver given by the excise department was questionable and contravened the rules. The government “decided to refund EMD (earnest money deposit) amounting to Rs 30 crore in case of License of Airport Zone, as the successful tenderer was unable·to obtain NOC from Airport Authorities”. However, the chief secretary’s inquiry said Rule 48 ( 11 )(b) of the Delhi Excise Rules. 2010, puts the onus on the successful bidder to complete all formalities for grant of licence, failing which all deposits made by him shall stand forfeited to the government.
Delhi Chief Minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, who had earlier said the Centre is after Sisodia and would put him behind the bars, tweeted: "Welcome to CBI. Will cooperate fully. There have been many tests/ raids in the past as well. Nothing came out. still, nothing will come out." Earlier in the day, the deputy CM himself tweeted to announce that the CBI searches have started at his premises.
AAP MP Raghav Chaddha told reporters that the BJP’s only agenda is to finish Kejriwal and that all the CBI officials could find during the search at Sisodia’s home “are pencils, notebooks and geometry boxes”. The CBI arrived at the Deputy CM’s house just after he was featured in the New York Times over his education model, said Chaddha.