NEW DELHI: The CBI on Friday raided the home of Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and 30 other locations in connection with the Delhi Excise Policy, escalating tensions between the government and the Aam Aadmi Party which alleged the agency was acting on orders from above.
Delhi Police has detained AAP leaders. It has imposed Section 144 around the Supreme Court and in the New Delhi district, as per media reports. Earlier today, the section had been imposed around Sisodia's residence and the Mathura road area.
The searches at the AAP leader's home, the residence of IAS officer and former excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna and other places came after the CBI registered an FIR for alleged irregularities in the formulation and execution of the Delhi Excise Policy brought out in November last year, officials said.
The searches covered seven states and union territories.
The premises of two other public servants were also searched.
Sisodia 'welcomes' CBI raids
"The CBI is here. They are welcome. We are extremely honest and determined to make the future of millions of children. It is very unfortunate that those who do good work in our country are harassed like this. That is why our country has not yet become number one," Sisodia tweeted in Hindi.
Sisodia holds multiple portfolios, including excise and education.
Nothing will come out of these raids: CM Kejriwal
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the CBI raid at his junior colleague’s house was the result of their good performance which is being appreciated globally. He said there were CBI raids before and nothing will come this time as well.
"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 an 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.
"It is a matter of pride for the country that Manish Sisodia's name is on the front page of the biggest newspaper of the most powerful country in the world. In a way, he has been declared the best education minister in the world. The biggest newspaper wrote about Delhi's education revolution and carried Sisodia''s photograph also." Kejriwal said.
Congress adds voice to the debate
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 flip side to relentless misuse of agencies against political rivals is that even legitimate, rightful actions of agencies come under a cloud of suspicion," party spokesperson Pawan Khera said on Twitter.
Before @NewIndianXpress broke the first story in any media that all is not well with the #DelhiExcisePolicy, there were a few things to take care of. Though @Shahid_Faridi_ had worked on the story for over three weeks, a response from #AAP was critical... https://t.co/DldK6BpcVS— santwanabhattacharya (@santwana99) August 19, 2022
Alleged irregularities in the excise policy: What is the case about?
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.
Several provisions such as slashing the number of dry days to three from 21 per year, the government's exit from retail liquor sale, allowing bars in hotels, restaurants to stay open till 3 am (awaiting police permission) and the retail licensees to offer rebates and schemes on alcohol were implemented by the excise department.
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.
Jain was arrested on May 30 by the Enforcement Directorate under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and is presently in judicial custody.
It is alleged that Sisodia made changes to the excise policy without the approval of Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal, such as allowing a waiver of Rs 144.36 crore on tendered licence fee on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The CBI inquiry was recommended on the basis of the Delhi chief secretary's report filed in July, showing prima facie violations of GNCTD Act 1991, Transaction of Business Rules (ToBR)-1993, Delhi Excise Act-2009, and Delhi Excise Rules-2010.
The chief secretary's report stated that Sisodia gave undue benefits to liquor licenses by revising the rates of foreign liquor and removing the levy of import pass fee of Rs 50 per case of beer and this made foreign liquor and beer cheaper for retail, leading to a loss of revenue for the state exchequer.
Thereafter, last month the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor VK Saxena had recommended CBI to register a case to probe financial irregularities in the mush-hyped excise policy. Saxena also directed Delhi’s Chief Secretary to submit a report detailing the “role of officers and civil servants in its illegal formulation, amendments and implementation.”
After the chief secretary prepared the report, Saxena approved the suspension of 11 officials over "serious lapses" in the implementation of the Excise Policy 2021-22.
The suspended officials included Gopikrishna and deputy excise commissioner Anand Kumar Tiwari. Krishna, a 2012 batch AGMUT-cadre IAS officer, is currently posted in the Union Territory of Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu. He was transferred from the post of Delhi Excise Commissioner on July 12, 2022. Tiwari, a 2003 batch DANICS officer is currently posted with the Delhi Excise department.
(With PTI and online desk inputs)