Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena has approved the suspension of 11 officials over “serious lapses” in the implementation of the Excise Policy 2021-22, sources said on Saturday.
The suspended officials include then Delhi excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna and deputy excise commissioner Anand Kumar Tiwari, they said.
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.
Suspension and major disciplinary proceedings have also been approved against three ad-hoc DANICS officers and six officials of the Delhi government’s excise department, sources at the LG’s office said.
The decision was taken given the “serious lapses on the part of the officers concerned” in the implementation of the excise policy, including “irregularities in finalizing the tender and extending post-tender benefits” to selected vendors, they said.
According to sources, the 11 officials against whom suspension and disciplinary action have been approved include then assistant excise commissioners Pankaj Bhatnagar, Narinder Singh and Neeraj Gupta.
The action was taken by Saxena based on an inquiry report filed by the Directorate of Vigilance (DoV).
Sources claimed the report contained proof of irregularities that were provided to the DoV by the finance and the excise departments, both under the charge of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
The inquiry report brings out the blatant violation of procedures, deliberate misinterpretation and subversion of basic government financial rules to provide benefit to licensees “obviously for a quid pro quo”, they said.
“From the formulation of the tender document to the award of tenders, undue return of earnest money deposit worth Rs 30 crore, waiver of license fee worth Rs 144.36 crore to allowing additional liquor vends to be opened by chosen licensees, the entire episode stinks of corruption and connivance,” sources alleged.
According to the report, the excise department officers equated the successful tenderer selected for the airport zone to get NoC from the authorities to open vends there with unsuccessful bidders to be refunded Rs 30 crore earnest money deposit (EMD).
“The deputy chief minister, through his note in July 2021, decided the EMD should be refunded to the H1 bidder who had failed to obtain a no-objection certificate from the airport authority,” sources said citing the report.
Sisodia had alleged the Delhi government suffered losses worth thousands of crores of rupees since then LG Anil Baijal on November 15, 2021, changed his stand putting a condition that DDA and MCD approval were needed for opening liquor vends in non-confirming areas in the city .
Baijal had approved the proposal to allow liquor vends as per Excise Policy 2021-22 that was implemented on November 17, 2021, he had said.
Sisodia asserted the need for a probe to find out why and under what pressure the then LG changed his stand and if there was a role of any BJP leaders in it.
However, the inquiry report said the officers of the Excise department allowed waiver on tendered license fees of Rs 144.36 crore for closure of retail vends due to Omicron-related issues.
This was done although no such specific provision for compensation in the form of a reduction in tendered license fees was available in the tender document, it stated.
“However, the officers moved ahead and the minister in-charge vide direction dated February 1, 2022, directed to provide pro-rata license fee relief to each licensee of the closed vends,” sources said quoting the report.
The Finance department had underlined that the proposed changes in the Excise Policy 2021-22 were “prima facie wrong” and required the LG’s approval. But Sisodia “blocked the note to this effect and returned the file to the finance secretary”, sources said quoting the inquiry report.
“It was observed that modifications were carried out in the proposed Excise Policy as well as terms and conditions of the licenses such as the requirement of a minimum turnover for wholesale license reduced to Rs 150 cr per annum from Rs 250 cr, revision in minimum carpet area of super premium vends delinking retailers from wholesalers and manufactures, net worth criteria for applying for retail zones, etc,” sources said citing the report.
Quoting the observations of the report, they alleged the excise department officials “brazenly indulged in cartelisation, awarding tenders to blacklisted companies and illegally allowing manufacturers to get retail licences” by “illegally amending” the Excise Policy.
A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry has already been recommended by the LG into the alleged violation of rules and procedural lapses in the implementation of the Excise Policy 2021-22.
Under the policy, implemented on November 17, 2021, private firms were issued retail licenses for 849 liquor vends across the city divided into 32 zones.
The policy has now been withdrawn by the Aam Aadmi Party government.
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