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Delhi's Lieutenant Governor (LG) VK Saxena on Saturday approved the suspension of 11 officials over "serious lapses" in the implementation of the controversial excise policy of the Delhi Government. The suspended officials include AGUMUT-cadre IAS office Arava Gopi Krishna, who was transferred from the post of Delhi Excise Commissioner on 12 July. Currently, Krishna is posted in the Union Territory of Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu. Deputy Excise Commissioner Anand Kumar Tiwari is also suspended in the matter. Major disciplinary proceedings have also been approved against three ad-hoc DANICS officers and six others officials of the government, sources at the L-G’s office said.

The decision was the result of "serious lapses on the part of the officers concerned" while implementing the excise policy which also includes "irregularities in finalizing the tender and extending post-tender benefits" to some vendors.

LG Saxena took action based on an inquiry report filed by the Directorate of Vigilance (DoV). The sources also claim, as reported by news agency PTI, that the inquiry report reveals glaring violation of procedure, deliberate misinterpretation and subversion of government financial rules. It was all to provide benefit to license holders "obviously for a quid pro quo".

The inquiry report which contained the proof of irregularities were provided to the Department of Vigilance by the finance and the excise departments. Both departments are under Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.

"From the formulation of the tender document to the award of tenders, undue return of earnest money deposit worth 30 crore, waiver of license fee worth 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 PTI.

The excise department officers equated successful tenderer for airport zone to get NOC from authorities to open vends there with unsuccessful bidders to be refunded 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.

Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia had alleged the Delhi government suffered losses worth thousands of crores of since then LG Anil Baijal on 15 November 2021, changed his stance by putting a condition of taking approval from DDA and MCD for opening liquor vends in non-confirming areas in the city.

The inquiry report also says that the excise officers allowed a waiver of 144.36 crore on tendered license fees for the closure of retail vends due to Omicron. There is no such provision for compensation in form of a reduction of tendered license fees.

"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 changes in excise policy were "prima facie wrong" and they also require the approval of the Lieutenant Governor. Sources claim that Deputy Chief Minister "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 licenses such as the requirement of a minimum turnover for wholesale license reduced to 150 crore per annum from 250 crore, 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.

Observations of the report allege that the officials "brazenly indulged in cartelization, awarding tenders to blacklisted companies and illegally allowing manufacturers to get retail licenses" by "illegally amending" the excise policy.

The LG has already recommended a CBI probe into the alleged violation of rules and procedural lapses.

The policy which is now withdrawn by the AAP government issued retail licenses to 849 private liquor vends across the city divided into 32 zones.

With Inputs from PTI.

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