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What is the Delhi liquor policy case and why is Deputy CM Manish Sisodia under CBI scanner?

Delhi’s Chief Secretary, in his report, pointed out that the decision to change the liquor policy was done without the authorisation of the L-G, provided ‘undue benefits’ to private liquor vendors, and sought a response regarding the same from Sisodia on July 8.

What is the Delhi liquor policy case and why is Deputy CM Manish Sisodia under CBI scanner?
Manish Sisodia under CBI scanner. (File)

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday conducted raids at 21 locations in Delhi-NCR and Punjab, including the residence of Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, in connection with Delhi’s new liquor policy which was rolled back last month by the Delhi government.

On July 30, Sisodia, who also heads the Excise department in the national capital, announced the scrapping of the government’s new liquor rules under Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22, now, allowing only government-owned liquor vendors to operate in Delhi. Even after a 27% increase in government revenue amounting to Rs 8,900 crore resulting from the new excise regime for liquor sales, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government went back to the old regime amid a probe initiated by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Delhi Police over alleged financial anomalies resulting from the new liquor policy.

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In July, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Vinai Kumar Saxena, recommended a CBI probe in connection with the new policy regime, directing Delhi’s Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar to submit a detailed report of the “role of officers and civil servants in its illegal formulation, amendments and implementation.” Kumar, in his report, pointed out that the decision to change the liquor policy was done without the authorisation of the L-G, provided ‘undue benefits’ to private liquor vendors, and sought a response regarding the same from Sisodia on July 8.

What was Delhi’s new liquor policy?

The new liquor policy marked the exit of the government from the business of liquor and was implemented in a bid to increase government revenues, better customer experience and end liquor mafia’s influence and black marketing. According to the new policy, which came into effect in November 2021,  Delhi was divided into 32 zones, with every zone consisting of 27 liquor vends.

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In order to make the trade more attractive, the government allowed the licensees to determine their own prices, regardless of the MRP, offering unlimited discounts to customers. Shops were allowed to be open till 3 am, while other facilities like home delivery to customers were allowed.

What did Delhi Chief Secretary’s report say?

Kumar pointed out several “procedural lapses” when it came to the new excise policy. As per the report submitted to the L-G and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on July 8, Kumar stated that the approval of a waiver to the tune of Rs 144.36 crore on tendered licence fee due to COVID, without the authorisation of the L-G. An import pass fee of Rs 50 per beer case was also waived off which resulted in huge losses for the excise department while profiting the licensees, the report said.

As per the Delhi Excise Rules, 2010 and the Transaction of Business Rules, 1993, all changes have to be approved by the L-G after the approval of the cabinet, otherwise, they are deemed illegal. This is where the Delhi Police’s EOW stepped in.

According to the Indian Express, Kumar had communicated to the EOW regarding the alleged anomalies and cartelisation and monopolisation of the liquor trade as a result of the new excise policy. The EOW, then, collected video recordings of several meetings held in the excise department for over a fortnight last month.

The EOW has reached out to the Excise Department asking for the documents on the tender policies, distribution of licenses and the procedure followed to curb unfair trade practices.

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