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Manish Sisodia – Delhi Liquor Policy Case: Explained

Hi, this is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.

Never a dull moment in Indian politics, is there? The latest political flashpoint is between the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party over the CBI raids against Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. This is regarding an alleged liquor policy scam.

Last week, the CBI raided 31 locations, including Sisodia’s home and named him as the first accused in a corruption FIR, along with 14 others. Now Sisodia and the AAP have strongly denied any wrongdoing and accused the CBI of acting at the behest of the BJP because they claim the 2024 general election will be a Modi versus Kejriwal battle.

Sisodia said, “we know the CBI is being misused, it’s being controlled from the top. Everyone knows that by controlling the CBI, the BJP wants to stop the good work being done by the AAP. The center can misuse the CBI as much as it wants, but we,” he said, “will not stop our good work.”

So what exactly is this case about and what explains the timing of the CBI raids? First, the case pertains to the now withdrawn Delhi liquor policy for 2021-22. Manish Sisodia is the head of Delhi’s excise department, which is how he has come in the line of fire.

The policy came into effect in November of 2021, under which the Government no longer had anything to do with selling liquor and allowed only private shops to do so. The central aim was to stop black marketing, to increase revenue and to basically improve consumer experience.

It also allowed the home delivery of liquor as well as allowing shops to open until three in the morning. Licensees could also offer unlimited discounts. In fact, the government substantially increased its revenue after the implementation of the policy by 27%, generating around Rs 8,900 crores.

However, the policy soon ran into trouble, first with the Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi police, which was already looking into alleged irregularities. In July this year, Delhi’s Chief Secretary, Naresh Kumar, submitted a report to Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena accusing Sisodia of providing undue benefits to liquor vend licensees in lieu of kickbacks and commissions.

Now, it was alleged that this was being used by the AAP in the Punjab polls back in February. The Chief Secretary’s report says that Sisodia allegedly made changes to the excise policy without the approval of the LG, who is supposed to be the competent authority, as they call it.

And that included allowing a waiver of Rs 144 crores on the tender license fee, using the pandemic as an excuse. Now, officials say that any changes to an already implemented policy has to be placed before the cabinet by the Excise Department and then forwarded to the LG for final approval. That’s what the rules are. And any changes that are made without the approval of the cabinet and the LG are illegal and in violation of Delhi’s excise rules and the transaction of business rules as well.

The report also alleged that Sisodia gave undue benefits to liquor licensees by revising the rates of foreign liquor and removing the levy of import pass fee of Rs 50 per case of beer. Now this according to the report made foreign liquor and beer basically cheaper for retail and that led to a loss of revenue for the state exchequer.

Once he got the Chief Secretary’s report, the LG announced a CBI probe into the new policy. And soon after that, Sisodia said the policy was going to be scrapped immediately, which once again meant that only government-owned liquor vends could sell alcohol.

Now the CBI FIR claims that Sisodia, the then excise commissioner of Delhi and two other senior excise department officials were, as they put it, instrumental in recommending and taking decisions pertaining to the excise policy for the year 2021-22 without the approval of the competent authority with an intention to extend undue favors to the licensees, post tender. The competent authority, as I said earlier here, is the LG.

Now hitting out at these raids, Arvind Kejriwal has said there have been raids in the past and nothing will come out of it. Nothing will come out of it this time either. He has made a link to the education record of the AAP, saying that the day when Delhi’s education model was praised in the New York Times Manish Sisodia’s picture was on the front page of America’s biggest newspaper.

That’s the day the centre sent the CBI to Manish Sisodia’s home. He also went on to say that they’ll “cooperate fully with the CBI, that there have been raids in the past and nothing will come out of it.” But the timing of the raids is politically important because we’re just months away from assembly elections in Himachal and Gujarat – two states where the Aam Aadmi Party is looking to expand its footprint.

In fact, in Gujarat in particular, the AAP is hoping to become the primary challenger to the BJP. And the party has made no secret of its national ambitions. Now clearly pitching 2024 as a battle between Mr Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.

Many see the raids as an attempt to dent AAP’s anti-corruption plank and campaign. It’s also no secret that central agencies have been used mostly against opposition leaders and critics in the last few years. But could the AAP’s anti-corruption plank also be dented with this case?

It’s also significant that other opposition parties like the Congress, which claim witch hunts by the ED, are not backing the AAP on this. So we’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out politically, particularly in Gujarat.


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