How new excise policy turned into a political battleground in Delhi

Friday’s raids could turn the heat between AAP and BJP several notches higher

August 20, 2022 01:59 am | Updated 02:58 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A private liquor vendor in New Delhi.

A private liquor vendor in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Moorthy R. V.

AAP’s Delhi government and the BJP locked horns ever since private liquor vends, under the Excise Policy 2021-22, opened in the city in November last year.

Since then both the parties have waged a war of words with each other, with the BJP accusing AAP’s Delhi government of a “liquor scam” and AAP accusing the BJP of trying to promote illicit liquor trade in the city.

Friday’s raid on the residence of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who also holds the excise portfolio, has raised the stakes for both parties even higher.

The backdrop

An important event in this political battle between the two parties happened on July 22 when Lieutenant-Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena granted the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) permission to probe the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22.

This was followed by the L-G suspending 11 officers of the Excise Department, including an IAS officer who headed the department when the policy was rolled out.

A week after the L-G gave permission to the CBI probe, AAP’s Delhi government decided to end the excise policy and go back to the ‘old regime’ of the retail liquor trade in the city asking the four government corporations which used to run retail liquor vends before November 17, 2021, to resume operations.

Promising change

The government had rolled out its new excise policy last year with a promise to “enhance the liquor-buying experience”, generate more revenue, and throttle the liquor mafia.

“The current retail experience is like a jail. When you go to a liquor shop, there is a grill and people rush and throw money to buy liquor. There is no dignity,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said in March 2021 while announcing the new excise policy.

The government, which operated over 475 vends (about 60% of total vends), completely pulled out of the liquor trade under the new policy and 849 new private vends — bigger, air-conditioned shops with glass doors and walk-in shopping — were scheduled to open from November 17, 2021.

Of these 849 vends, 844 were allowed to open in markets, malls, commercial areas, local shopping complexes etc.

The rest of the five were supposed to be super premium vends (SPV), spread across at least 2,500 sq. feet. and allowed to sell products only above ₹200 in case of beer and above ₹1,000 for all other spirits.

Chaotic start

But on November 17, the day when 844 new shops were supposed to open, a majority of the vends had empty shelves, very low stock, and some were still under construction, leaving customers high and dry.

In a few weeks, around 630-650 of the 844 vends opened to a positive reception, delivering on the promises of being bigger and temperature-controlled and allowing customers to walk in to make the purchase.

However, soon after the new excise policy came into effect, the BJP held protests outside many shops which they felt were too close to residential areas. Moreover, the five promised SPVs never opened.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sisodia, under the pressure of allegations of graft, held the previous L-G, Anil Baijal, responsible for making “last minute” changes to the new excise policy. The Deputy CM also accused Mr. Baijal of graft and demanded a CBI probe.

The former L-G retorted by issuing a statement which read, “The allegations now made by Shri Manish Sisodia are baseless and are motivated against me. Mr. Sisodia is trying to find some alibi for his and his colleague’s acts of commission and omissions.”

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