Delhi excise policy case: CBI arrests Manish Sisodia after 8-hr grilling
DECCAN CHRONICLE | AMRESH SRIVASTAVA
New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation on Sunday arrested Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia over the excise policy scam after nearly eight hours of questioning at its headquarters. CBI officials claimed that Sisodia was arrested as his answers to the CBI questionnaire were "evasive" and not satisfactory. He will be produced in court on Monday.
The excise policy scam case relates to alleged corruption in formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped excise policy for 2021-22.
Sisodia arrived at the CBI headquarters at around 11.15 am for the second round of questioning, they said.
Before putting him under arrest, officials of the CBI’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) grilled Mr Sisodia on various aspects of the excise policy, his alleged link with Dinesh Arora and other accused mentioned in the FIR, and details of message exchanges from multiple phones, among others, they said.
"The Central Bureau of Investigation arrested Deputy Chief Minister of Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) today in an ongoing investigation of a case related to alleged irregularities in framing and implementation of the excise policy of GNCTD," the CBI said in a statement.
He was served a notice under Section 41A of the Criminal Procedure Code for attending the investigation on February 19. However, he sought a week’s delay citing his preoccupation. Accepting his request, he was issued a notice again for attending the investigation Sunday (February 26) for answering various questions evaded by him during his examination on October 17, 2022, and further questions relating to his incriminating role based on evidence collected during investigation of the case.
"However, he gave evasive replies and did not cooperate with the investigation despite being confronted with evidence to the contrary. Therefore, he has been arrested," it said. The arrested accused will be produced before the designated court here on Monday.
This case was registered against Sisodia, who is the deputy CM and the minister in charge of the Delhi government’s excise department, and 14 others for investigation into alleged irregularities in the framing and implementation of Excise Policy 2021-22 and extending post-tender benefits to private persons. A chargesheet was filed on November 25, 2022 against the then CEO of a Mumbai-based private company and six others. Further investigations were being carried out, the CBI said.
Mr Sisodia's arrest, one of the highest-profile actions against an Opposition leader, comes after that of Satyendar Jain, Delhi’s then health minister, in June last year. Both ministers have led what the Aam Aadmi Party calls the successful transformation of Delhi’s education and health services, contributing to the party’s popularity and continued electoral success.
"He gave evasive replies and did not cooperate in the investigation despite being confronted with evidence. Therefore, he was arrested," the CBI said in a statement. It was felt that custodial interrogation was necessary to put Mr Sisodia through intense questioning, they said.
He was booked under IPC Sections 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and 477A (falsification of accounts) and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, including Section 7 (taking undue advantage to influence a public servant by corrupt or illegal means or by the exercise of personal influence), CBI sources said.
Earlier in the day, before leaving for the CBI office Sisodia had expressed fears that he may be arrested. Addressing his supporters and AAP workers at Rajghat, ahead of being questioned by the CBI, he said it was the Aam Aadmi Party that will end the rule of the BJP.
Mr Sisodia said he was not afraid of going to jail. "We are followers of Sardar Bhagat Singh. We are not afraid of going to jail." He also raised the slogans of "Sarfaroshi ki tamanna… and Inqilab Zindabad... Bharat Mata Ki Jai". In a fierce as well as emotional speech, Mr Sisodia asked his supporters to take care of his ailing wife and child while he was away, saying he will be "jailed" by the CBI. He said that he had always worked honestly and with hard work.
He left his home just before 10 am, standing out of the sunroof of his car and leading a roadshow of AAP supporters who waved placards and shouted slogans. He visited Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat and then delivered a speech.
He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not afraid of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi but he feared chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The CBI headquarters was turned into an impregnable fortress by the Delhi police by raising four layers of barricades on JLN Stadium Road, officials said. It imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC after a demonstration by AAP leaders and workers outside the CBI office. The protesters were taken into custody. Additional deployment of security forces took place around the CBI headquarters after Sisodia was arrested.
The AAP leader, accused number one in the CBI FIR, was first grilled on October 17, a month before the agency filed its chargesheet in the case on November 25 last year. Officials said the CBI had not named Sisodia in the chargesheet as it kept the probe open against him and the others.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, in open support of his deputy, said that going to jail for the country and society was not a curse but a matter of pride. In a tweet in Hindi, he said: "God is with you Manish. The blessings of lakhs of children and their parents are with you. When you go to jail for the country and society, it is not a curse but a matter of pride. I pray to God that you return from jail soon. Delhi’s children, their parents and all of us will wait for you."
Along with Mr Sisodia, the CBI had also named Arva Gopi Krishna, then commissioner (excise); Anand Tiwari; then deputy commissioner (excise); Pankaj Bhatnagar, assistant commissioner (excise); Vijay Nair, former CEO, Only Much Louder, an entertainment-event management company; Manoj Rai, ex-employee of Pernod Ricard; Amandeep Dhal, director, Brindco Sales Pvt Ltd; and Sameer Mahendru, managing director, Indospirit Group; as the accused in the FIR.
Earlier, in a tweet in Hindi, Mr Sisodia said he will fully cooperate with the probe. He said: "Today, I am going to the CBI. Will fully cooperate in the probe. I have the love of lakhs of children and crores of countrymen with me. Even if I have to go to jail for a few months, I do not care. We are followers of Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh died for the country. If I have to go to jail over such false allegations, it is a small thing."
Mr Sisodia, who also holds the education portfolio in the Delhi government, said students must continue to work hard and that if he goes to jail, he will still be keeping a tab on their performance. "I want to tell students that they should continue to work hard and study well. Even if I go to jail, I will keep a tab on the performance of the students."