On September 16, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reportedly said that he still doesn’t understand what the liquor scam is about, where his deputy Manish Sisodia has been booked by the CBI. While 15 persons have been booked in the case, along with unknown public servants and private persons in the case, the Aam Admi Party has been claiming that there was no scam. Therefore, it is no wonder that Kejriwal will claim ignorance about the scam, given that he is known for blatant lies.
I still don’t understand what liquor scam is about: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) September 16, 2022
Kejriwal alleged that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) were “unnecessarily troubling everyone”, and said that he still did not know what the liquor scam was all about. He also added that saying that “The country cannot progress like this.” As the Delhi chief minister says he does not know what the liquor scam is about, here is our attempt to explain it to him.
The liquor scam was exposed in July this year when Arvind Kejriwal’s own Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar found irregularities and procedural lapses in the new liquor policy implemented by the Delhi govt last year.
The new liquor policy of Delhi was floated in 2020 and implemented in November 2021, which brought several changes to the way alcoholic drinks are sold in the city-state. The police marked the exit of the government from selling liquor, handing over the operations to private retailers solely. Entire Delhi was divided into 32 zones and each zone had 27 liquor vends, which means each municipal ward had 2-3 vends.
The new policy allowed home delivery, opening of shops till 3 AM, and allowed sellers to offer unlimited discounts, ending the system of selling at govt mandated MRP.
However, when Naresh Kumar was appointed as Delhi Chief Secretary in April 2022, he examined the files related to the new liquor policy, and found several irregularities and procedural lapses in its formulation and implementation. It was discovered that undue benefits were extended to private parties, causing loss to the govt exchequer.
The chief secretary had prepared a report on the matter, and sought Manish Sisodia’s response on it. Excise is among the 19 portfolios handled by Sisodia, who is also the Deputy CM of Delhi.
Acting on the Chief Secretary’s report, Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena ordered a CBI probe in July, and days after that, the Delhi govt announced the decision to scrap the new liquor policy and revert to the old one. In the meanwhile, CBI conducted raids on Manish Sisodia, excise officials and private beneficiaries of the new liquor policy, and filed an FIR on August 19 naming 15 persons including Sisodia.
The Delhi liquor scam
According to the chief secretary’s report, cartelisation and monopolies were taking place in the liquor trade under the new liquor policy. It was also alleged that there was an illegal distribution of liquor licences to companies that had violated the terms and conditions of the New Excise Policy 2021-22.
According to the allegations made in the report, Manish Sisodia made changes to the excise policy without the mandatory approval of the LG. He had waived off ₹144.36 crores on licence fees to be paid by the private liquor vendors for licences in the name of Covid-19 pandemic. He had removed the import pass fee of ₹50 per case of beer, and had given undue benefits to liquor sellers by revising the prices of foreign liquor.
According to the CBI FIR, L-1 licences were issued illegally in exchange for bribes, and one of the traders had paid ₹1 crore to a company managed by a person who is an associate of Manish Sisodia. It was found that L-1 licence holders were issuing credit notes to retail vendors with the intention to divert the funds to public servants, showing that it was a method of paying bribes in exchange of the licences. The licence holders also made false entries in their books of accounts to keep the records of such bribes straight.
CBI said that Manish Sisodia’s close aides Amit Arora, Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey were actively involved in managing and diverting the bribe money collected from Liquor Licensees to accused public servants. CBI had found that Indospirits MD Sameer Mahendru had transferred an amount of one crore to account no. 10220210004647 of Radha Industries maintained with UCO Bank, Rajendra Place, New Delhi. Radha Industries is managed by Dinesh Arora, a close associate of the Deputy CM. Similarly, another person Arjun Pandey had collected 2-4 crores from Sameer Mahendru.
The FIR filed by CBI mentioned another firm Mahadev Liquors which was granted an L-1 licence. The firm’s authorised signatory Sunny Marwah was found to have close contact with govt officials and was regularly paying bribes to them.
Different amounts mentioned in the scam
Today Arvind Kejriwal also alleged different persons were different quoting numbers in relation to the matter, and therefore the allegations of the scam are false. He said, “One BJP leader says it is a scam of Rs 8,000 crore, the LG says it is a scam of Rs 144 crore and the CBI FIR says there is a scam of Rs 1 crore. I don’t understand what the liquor scam is.” This a classic tactic used by the AAP leader to mislead people to prove that there is no scam. But the fact is, all those figures were mentioned in different contexts to the scam, and they are not the total ‘scam amount’. Here is the detail of the various amounts related to the scam.
1 crore: Mentioned in CBI FIR, as the amount paid by Indospirits MD Sameer Mahendru to Dinesh Arora of Radha Industries, as per CBI FIR. Arora is named as a close aide of Manish Sisodia, and it is believed that he was a middleman in collecting bribes from liquor licence holders and forwarding the money to officials.
The CBI FIR also mentioned that another amount in the range of ₹2-4 crore was collected from Sameer Mahendru. But the AAP leaders including the CM have chosen to ignore this, claiming that CBI has mentioned only ₹1 crore.
144 crore: This is the amount of loss caused by the waiver of the licence fee without the required authorisation of LG. The Delhi govt had waived the 24.02% licence fee for the period December 28 to January 27, after the vendors had requested the state govt for a waiver citing a fall in sales due to fresh cases of Covid-19.
This waiver has resulted in the loss of ₹144.36 crore to the exchequer of the Delhi government. As the waiver was granted without following norms, it can be said that this was the direct loss caused by the scam.
8000 crore: This amount was mentioned by BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, who had claimed that the state exchequer lost ₹8000 crore due to the new liquor policy which has been scraped now. Explaining the amount, he had claimed that while Delhi had set a target of ₹9500 crore as licence fee, only ₹1400 crore was collected, thereby there was a loss of over ₹8000 crore.
However, now it has emerged that the BJP leader had compared the annual target with the quarterly actual collection, which had resulted in such a big number. Actually, the Delhi govt made ₹1,485 crore in licence fees in the first quarter of 2022-23, against the target of ₹2,375 crore, resulting in a shortfall of ₹890 crore.
Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta had claimed that the amount of loss was ₹10,000 crore.
30 crore: Another number associated with the scam is ₹30 crore, which was returned to a successful bidder in violation of the rules. A company named Pixie Enterprises had won bids for 10 retailers in the airport zone. But it could not get a no-objection certificate from the airport authorities, as the airport already had an agreement with another company Buddy Retail to sell liquor in the zone. Buddy had also submitted a bid but didn’t win.
Pixie had moved to Delhi High Court also but their plea was rejected. After that, ₹30 crore deposited by Pixie was returned by the Delhi govt, and the licence was granted to Buddy after it matched the Pixie offer. Now, according to Excise Rules, returning the deposit to Pixie was illegal, because according to the rules, if a successful bidder fails to obtain approvals from other authorities, their deposit will be forfeited. The rules said that deposits of only unsuccessful bidders will be returned. Therefore, it was a violation of the rules in returning the deposit to Pixie.
This shows that Arvind Kejriwal was misleading people by claiming that different amounts are being mentioned in relation to the scam. All these are different amounts specific to individual incidents, and not the total scam amount as portrayed by the CM.
In fact, the scale of the scam has not emerged yet, and there are various aspects to it. Some of the amounts are bribes paid to officials in exchange of grant of licences in violation of rules, while others are losses to the exchequer due to various decisions of the govt. All these are yet to be quantified, which should be done in the CBI charge sheet. For example, the amount of loss due to the waiver of the licence fee for a month is known, ₹144.36 crore, but the losses due to other decisions, like waiver of import fee on beer and allowing retailers to give unlimited discounts are not known yet. And the important matter is, most of these decisions were implemented without the mandatory approval of the LG.
Paid media silence
The Delhi Liquor scam was unearthed by the Chief Secretary of the Delhi government, and probes have been conducted by the Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi Police and the CBI, after which CBI filed an FIR. This means this is a major scam and the probe agencies have found significant material against the accused, including the Deputy CM of Delhi who runs almost half of the ministries. But despite this, there is silence in the media over the scam. While there are reports on updates in the matter, it is not covered by the media like other scams and controversies are covered. Even so-called pro-BJP media houses are also not giving it a priority. And this can be explained by what was seen in today’s newspapers, full first-page advertisements by AAP’s Punjab government across India in almost all major newspapers, in all of their editions.
Netizens shared photos showing full-page ads featuring Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann published in various newspapers like Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Dainik Bhaskar, Lokmat, Amar Ujala and many other newspapers. And it is not that the ad was given only in the Delhi edition of the newspapers, it was published in the entire country, in all editions of the papers, most of which were on the first pages.
Heard @BhagwantMann spend Rs 100 crore today from Punjab Govt Funds ? From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Atak to Katak Bhagwant Mann is on front Page of every newspaper. Can anyone confirm ? pic.twitter.com/mo0CeBewcR
— Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) September 16, 2022
Delhi BJP leader Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga alleged that Bhagwant Mann spent ₹100 crore from Punjab govt funds for the ads. Netizens replied to him showing the same ad in various papers in their cities.
Smart strategy. Paying them rich dividends in Delhi. Not a single media house (not even so called Godi media) is reporting Delhi Liquor Scam like a Scam but only as something that BJP is accusing it of in normal course of politics. https://t.co/xPPSI9usRX
— Arihant (@haryannvi) September 16, 2022
Social media users accused Aam Aadmi Party of using the money from the people of Punjab to bury news about its scam in Delhi.
The Arvind Kejriwal govt in Delhi is already using the strategy of mass advertising to prevent any negative news in media, as Delhi govt ads appear every 10 minutes on all TV channels regularly. And now, the Punjab govt, which is anyway allegedly remote-controlled by the Delhi govt, is using the same strategy.