In March 2021, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced changes in the state’s excise policy, shutting down all government-run liquor sales and only allowing private players. from November. He said it would increase revenue, ensure a fair distribution of stores and eliminate the alcohol mafia.
The policy has now posed problems for Sisodia, with the CBI launching an investigation into the alleged irregularities. The allegations range from aiding a few liquor licensees at the expense of the national treasury to paying bribes to some government officials. The CBI launched the investigation on the recommendation of Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena, following a report submitted to him by Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar. Shortly after, Sisodia announced that the government was reverting to the old excise policy until such time as a reworked policy was introduced.
The Chief Secretary’s report mentioned that the Excise Department waived Rs 144.36 crore of tendered liquor license fees citing the pandemic as the reason. The department also refunded the deposit of Rs 30 crore to the lowest bidder for the airport area license when the bidder failed to obtain a no-objection certificate from the airport. It is claimed that these decisions violated established standards and that the firm and the LG were circumvented.
It was also alleged that the Excise Department, without the approval of the relevant authorities, revised the formula for calculating foreign liquor tariffs and removed the import pass fee, resulting in loss of revenue. According to the Delhi government’s own estimates, in the first quarter of 2022-23, only Rs 1,485 crore was realized as liquor excise revenue, well below the budget estimate of Rs 2,375 crores of rupees.
In the CBI FIR filed August 17, Sisodia is number one on a list of 16 accused persons, some of whom are senior excise officials. The list also includes private players such as Vijay Nair (former CEO of entertainment company Only Much Louder), Manoj Rai (former employee of Pernod Ricard), Amandeep Dhal (director of Brindco Sales Pvt Ltd), Sameer Mahendru (general manager , Indospirit Group), Amit Arora (Buddy Retail Pvt Ltd) and Sunny Marwah of Mahadev Liquors. Also among the defendants are Arun Ramachandra Pillai, a resident of Hyderabad, and Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey, who, along with Amit Arora, have been described by the CBI as close associates of Sisodia.
The FIR mentions that Sisodia and senior excise officials made excise policy decisions that gave undue favors to licensees. Sisodia said the CBI found nothing during their raid. Defending the new excise policy, he said, “It is the best excise policy in the country, and it has been prepared and implemented with full transparency and honesty.”