By: Avinash Prabhakar
In a major setback to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was arrested by the CBI on Sunday after eight hours of questioning in connection with the excise policy case, including his alleged links with Dinesh Arora and other accused persons mentioned in the FIR.
And on Monday, a Delhi court sent the senior AAP leader to five-day CBI custody till March 4.
However, the grounds of his arrest were being prepared from July last year when Delhi's Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar had submitted a report to Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena, accusing Sisodia of providing undue benefits to liquor vend licensees in lieu of 'commissions'.
"The inquiry report by the Vigilance Department on the excise policy case deals at length with the arbitrary and unilateral decisions taken by Manish Sisodia and the excise department officials that resulted in huge financial loss to the exchequer. The findings of the inquiry report with regard to the levy of import pass fee and profit margin in case of foreign liquor, reduction in the number of dry days, and illegal extension of the excise policy also expose that the policy had helped earn huge revenues," said a source.
However, after much controversy, the Delhi Cabinet headed by Arvind Kejriwal withdrew the excise policy 2021-22 in July last year.
The CBI FIR in the case said that Sisodia, then Excise Commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna, and two other senior excise department officials were "instrumental in recommending and taking decisions pertaining to the excise policy for the year 2021-22 without the approval of the competent authority with an intention to extend undue favors to the licensees post tender".
"However, the observations of the vigilance report with regard to the irregularities tell a different story. It was Sisodia who actually made room for windfall gains to the licensees and caused revenue loss to the government," said a statement from the L-G Secretariat.
As per the report, the huge revenue loss caused to the government was because of the 'levy of import pass fees on beer and profit margin per unit for the manufacturers in case of foreign liquor".
"The officials of the excise department neither took the approval of the Council of Ministers nor the opinion of the L-G before issuing the order dated November 8, 2021, for revising the formula of calculation of rates of foreign liquor and removal of levying of import pass fee at Rs 50 per case on beer. It was observed that by undertaking such reduction in wholesale prices, the input cost of beer and foreign liquor to the retail licensees (L7Z) was reduced," the source said.
Refund of Rs 30 crore EMD in case of Airport Zone
The officials of the excise department were of the view that if EMD is not forfeited, bidders may quote unrealistic annual reserve license fees, creating obstruction and derailing the tender process. These officials sought directions from the Group of Ministers regarding forfeiture/refund of EMD in case the H1 bidder fails to obtain NOC from the Airport Authority of India (AAI) within 30 days and sent the file to the finance department. However, Sisodia inter alia decided that the EMD should be refunded to the H1 bidder who fails to obtain NOC from AAI.
The third point is the waiver of the Rs 144.36 crore license fee for January 2022 on the pretext of Covid restrictions as a relief to the liquor cartel. The licensees under the excise policy had approached the Delhi government for a license fee waiver for the Covid restriction period.
When they received no response from the government, the licensees approached the Delhi High Court which directed the licensees to file a fresh representation and told the excise department to dispose of the same within seven days. The minister in charge, Sisodia, on February 1, 2022, directed to provide pro-rata license fee relief to each licensee for the closed vends during the period from December 28m 2021 to January 27m 2022.
The number of dry days was also reduced from 21 in a calendar year to just three days in 2022, without taking the approval of the Council of Ministers or taking the L-G's opinion in this matter, the report said.
Regarding the extension of excise policy, the report also underlined that no such exercise was undertaken by the officials of the department before extending the period of license without any increase in the tendered license fee. Therefore, such extension without any increase in tendered license fee would prima facie lead to undue benefits to such licensee. (KB/IANS)