The Special Enquiry Team’s report into the alleged liquor smuggling in Haryana has pitted Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij against the state’s Excise Minister Dushyant Chautala.
A day after Vij announced that he has “fully accepted” SET report and marked a “vigilance probe and registration of FIR” in the case, Dushyant, who is also the deputy CM, “dismissed” the observations made by the SET regarding his department.
Hitting back at Anil Vij, Dushyant said, “First, the Home Minister should investigate why his department could not investigate beyond a vehicle driver in the 14 FIRs that SET has annexed in its report.”
He added: “People talk about my department’s compliance. SET talks about 14 FIRs that were registered. These included majority that were registered before I took over the Excise Department. The objective of Excise Department is to catch such anomalies and handover the case to the police under the concerned Act. It should be told that what action was taken in those FIRs. Isn’t it the police’s inefficiency that they could not investigate beyond the driver of the vehicles (carrying illicit liquor)? Isn’t it police’s inefficiency that till date the Investigating Officer or Deputy Superintendent of Police or any other officer investigating those FIRs could not move a step ahead?”
Further hitting at the police department, Dushyant said, “Our mandate is very clear. If there is such an illicit trade, we can catch it. If there is a theft of excise, we can get the FIR registered, and handover to the police. But the manner in which repeatedly police’s inefficiency is being directed towards Excise Department – I do not talk about incumbent Home Minister, but even in the past I believe the responsibility (according to SET’s report) is more of the police which failed to perform its duty.”
Saying that SET “should have conducted the enquiry in a better manner” and refuting SET’s observations on the Excise Department in its report, Dushyant said, “I can say that there are several issues on which SET has given observations but has not examined those issues properly. Be it the compliance report of shutting down the liquor vends of all 22 districts that is on record. I feel that the enquiry should have been conducted in a better manner,” Dushyant said Friday.
Reacting to Vij recommending the case to State Vigilance Bureau for a thorough investigation, Dushyant added, “Who will recommend… how it will be recommended, is not the subject of my reply. There is a structure of the government and recommendations are made through the government’s structure.”
The SET, which was constituted to “enquire” into the “theft of liquor from warehouses/ godowns and action taken by Excise Department in respect of seized liquor and result of investigation of FIRs by police related to seizure of illegal liquor”, had submitted its report to the state government recently.
The SET headed by Additional Chief Secretary-rank IAS officer T C Gupta had another IAS officer Vijay Singh (Additional Excise and Taxation Commissioner) and IPS officer Subhash Yadav as its members. After Yadav’s retirement, IPS officer Muhammad Akil was included in the team.
The SET had also given scathing observations against Excise and Taxation Commissioner Shekhar Vidyarthi saying that Vidyarthi “attempted to block SET’s visit” to a distillery that SET wanted to visit. SET, in its report, also mentioned that despite instructions given by Dushyant on March 26 to shut down all the liquor vends in the state due to Covid lockdown, Vidyarthi did not issue any written instructions in this regard.
However, giving a clean chit to Vidyarthi, Dushyant said, “On March 27 by 1100 hours, we had received compliance report from all 22 districts. I do not think there was any requirement of issuing any written instructions. If I had given instructions that liquor vends have to be shut down and the officer of my department has sent me the compliance report, I feel this is highly efficient of him. I believe the officer performed efficiently.”
“I am happy to share that all the recommendations made by the SET are already there in our Excise Policy for 2020-21. There is not even a single recommendation made by the SET that we have not already done,” Dushyant told The Indian Express.
He added, “It will be distilleries responsibility to provide us the CCTVs feed. Government’s High Power Purchase Committee has already approved the tender and work orders have to be issued now. About Track and Trace mechanism of liquor movement, I have already announced it. Regarding the revenue of excise department, I will come up with the figures and statistics of our revenue of the first quarter on August 20.”
Talking about Shekhar Vidyarthi blocking SET’s visit to the distillery, Dushyant said, “Such kind of visits by any authority are not permissible under the Punjab Excise Act which is also followed by Haryana. The communication that we received, it mentioned visit to ‘a distillery’. ‘A distillery’ could have been any distillery. Till the point we had clarity on it, we could not have allowed such a visit.”
On the recommendation of destruction of seized illicit liquor, Dushyant added, “I had already given instructions to concerned officers to destroy the illicit liquor within 14 days and send a compliance report. There is a procedure involved. In November 2019, I had given instructions to destroy the stock. The illicit liquor seized till July, 2019 was destroyed. The next stock was to be destroyed in April but it could not happen due to Covid lockdown.”
He said that “all the recommendations that SET has made in its report shall be fully implemented by December end, this year”.
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