As many as 11 officials, including former excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna and incumbent deputy excise commissioner Anand Kumar Tiwari, are set to be suspended following the directions of Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, VK Saxena.
Saxena on Saturday, 6 August, also approved the suspension of three ad-hoc DANICS officers and six officials of the Delhi government's excise department, news agency PTI quoted sources from the LG office as saying.
Major disciplinary action will also be initiated against all of them.
The action is being taken against the officials as they allegedly made "serious lapses" while implementing the Delhi government's controversial Excise Policy 2021-2022, which has now been scrapped by the AAP government.
Who Are the Suspended Officials?
The LG came to this conclusion after considering the "serious lapses on the part of the officers concerned" in the implementation of the excise policy, including "irregularities in finalising the tender and extending post-tender benefits" to select vendors, sources told PTI.
A 2012-batch AGMUT-cadre IAS officer, Krishna, currently serves at the Union Territory of Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu. On 12 July, he was transferred from the post of Delhi Excise Commissioner.
Pankaj Bhatnagar, Narinder Singh, and Neeraj Gupta, who were holding the post of Assistant Excise Commissioners at that time, section officers Kuljeet Singh, Subhash Ranjan, and Suman, and dealing hands Satya Brat Bhargav, Sachin Solanki, and Gaurav Mann are among the 11 suspended officials
The LG has reportedly taken the action after an inquiry report on the alleged lapses was filed by the Directorate of Vigilance (DoV). The report has proof of irregularities which were provided to the DoV by the finance and excise departments. Both these departments are under Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
What Has the Inquiry Report 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 licence fee worth Rs 144.36 crore to allowing additional liquor vends to be opened by chosen licencees, the entire episode stinks of corruption and connivance," sources told PTI.
The report noted that the excise department officers allegedly 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, as Anil Baijal, who was the LG at that time, had changed his stance and put a condition that approvals from DDA and MCD 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 17 November 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 a waiver on tendered licence fees of Rs 144. 36 crore for closure of retail vends due to Omicron.
But there is no such specific provision for compensation in form of a reduction in tendered licence fees available in the tender document, the report stated.
"However, the officers moved ahead and the minister in-charge vide direction dated 1 February 2022, directed to provide pro-rata licence fee relief to each licensee of the closed vends," sources said quoting the report, reported PTI.
The finance department had reportedly pointed out 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."
"It was observed that modifications were carried out in the proposed Excise Policy as well as terms and conditions of the licences such as the requirement of a minimum turnover for wholesale licence 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, as per PTI.
The report also alleged that the excise officials had "brazenly indulged in cartelisation, awarding tenders to blacklisted companies and illegally allowing manufacturers to get retail licences" by "illegally amending" the Excise Policy.
The LG has already recommended a CBI inquiry into the alleged violations and procedural lapses in the implementation of the Excise Policy 2021-22.
Under the policy, which was implemented on 17 November 2021, retail licences were issued for 849 private liquor vends across the city divided into 32 zones.
(With inputs from PTI.)