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What is liquor policy and why was it scrapped?
On November 17, 2021, the AAP government introduced a new liquor policy in which the government aimed to withdraw from the retail sale of liquor and allowed stores to run using private licensees. The city was divided into 32 zones and each zone was allotted 27 vends at max. The government stated that this policy is being introduced to increase government revenue and also to combat black marketing. Around 849 vends were awarded to private companies and no individual licenses were permitted.
The policy allowed the liquor stores to stay open after midnight as well as the possibility to offer unlimited discounts. The government later reported that an increase in revenue had been recorded, by 27 percent as sales rose drastically after this move by the government. The policy was later questioned by the BJP government as it said that policies like these tend to promote “liquor culture” among the masses.
However, the controversy began to take shape when it was alleged that the AAP government was suing the new policy in order to extend undue favors to private retailers. A 144 crore rebate in the liquor license fee was flagged by Naresh Kumar, Delhi Chief Secretary, in July 2022 during the pandemic.
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) launched a thorough investigation into the matter to see if any rules were violated during the implementation of the policy. A new excise policy came into effect, because of which the government could not control the sale of liquor in the city anymore. Due to financial irregularities in the new liquor policy, it was later scrapped and the old policy was once again implemented.
Why was Manish Sisodia arrested?
Manish Sisodia, then deputy chief minister and an AAP leader, came across as suspicious to CBI and consequently, a raid was launched in August 2022 to investigate any possible money trails. Mr. Sisodia had earlier stated that the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) which later joined the probe, could not find anything on him as this is a cooked-up allegation by the BJP to tarnish the AAP government’s image.
CBI has questioned various ministers, including Bibhav Kumar, Mr Kejriwal’s personal assistant as well as Jasmine Shah, one of the AAP leaders. Last September, following arrests have been made, including that of Vijay Nair (former CEO of an event management firm) and Sameer Mahendru (liquor retailer). On March 7, 2023, Mr. Sisodia went through a questioning session of about five hours, where CBI asked him questions related to frequent changing of phones, change in profit margin from 5 percent to 12 percent for wholesalers, etc.
Bail Hearing of Manish Sisodia
On October 5, 2023, the court proceeded with the bail hearing of Mr. Sisodia, where some questions were asked and strong opinions were put forward. The bench comprised Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice SVN Bhatti, and they questioned ASG SV Raju who represented CBI, asking that a clear chain of evidence has not been established yet. Dinesh Arora, who is the recipient himself, has given a statement but that itself cannot act as proof, as “The money has to flow from the liquor lobby to the person”.
The Supreme Court also noted that two figures of money have been constantly referred to, in this case, i.e., ₹ 100 crore and ₹ 30 crore. The Court proceeded to further ask that “there can be so many people paying the money, not necessarily connected to the liquor policy”. So who paid this amount to the accused in this case?
The Court has also noted that nobody from the liquor shop has met Sisodia to date. So it becomes difficult to establish a chain of evidence as SC questioned how one brought him under money laundering charges as the money is not going directly to him. The bench continued to say “In case it is a company with whom he is involved, then we have vicarious liability. Otherwise, the prosecution falters. Money laundering is entirely a different offense”.
Among many other observations and statements that the court issued this Thursday, the bench asked ASG Raju that the allegation that the fixed profit margin of 12 percent was made to “benefit some” needs to be proved further as how does one establish that “kickbacks were given?” or does it entirely depend on approvers’ statements?
These questions have further shed light on many facts and observations with respect to the ongoing charges against Mr. Sisodia. The recent arrest of MP Sanjay Singh has added to the distraught AAP party which has taken to the streets to stage their protest, holding placards that said “ED-CBI Bhajpa ke Bhai”.