Wednesday 17 Jul 2024

A year later, suspended officials back on duty amid slow-paced inquiry

EXCISE SCAM

VIBHA VERMA | JUNE 27, 2024, 12:34 AM IST

PANAJI

A year ago, three officials from the Excise Department orchestrated a massive scam that shook Goa to its core, exposing irregularities and loss of the State exchequer running to around Rs 2 crores.

Several liquor license holders in the northern coastal belt, particularly Pernem, were cheated with fake renewed licenses during the Covid pandemic. The license holders continued their operations until the head office slapped them with a ‘default notice.’

Despite the exposé, the inquiry is allegedly moving at a snail's pace. What’s even more shocking is that suspended inspectors Vibhuti Shetye and Durgesh Naik, along with the alleged mastermind, Upper Division Clerk Harish Naik have been quietly reinstated by the government.

Reliable sources told The Goan that their reinstatement happened just before the election code for the Lok Sabha elections, following instructions from the Finance Department.

“The Vigilance/Anti-Corruption Branch submitted its preliminary inquiry report to the Finance Department after the suspension. Based on the findings revealed, a reinstatement order was issued and they were posted at headquarters. The Excise Department has been strictly instructed not to allot any of them important postings until the inquiry is complete,” the source said.

The ACB has been slow in its investigation with one of its officers justifying that there are many witnesses and victims whose statements are still being recorded. “The evidence produced before us is also under examination, hence the delay,” a senior officer explained.

During the monsoon session of the Legislative Assembly last year, the opposition highlighted flaws in the licensing system to which Chief Minister Pramod Sawant assured that action based on an internal audit report will be taken. However, the progress remains elusive.

The CM had also acknowledged that licenses are sublet in several cases and warned of a crackdown.

Further, the excise department has remained silent on the ordered audit of all excise stations for irregularities, ordered by the then Commissioner Narayan Gad.

Meanwhile, the Comptroller Auditor General's (CAG) 2020 report made another alarming fact wherein over 1,000 liquor licenses in Bardez and four other talukas -- Tiswadi, Mormugao, Salcete and Ponda were not renewed between the financial years 2014-15 and 2019-20. The performance audit on excise revenue collection revealed a shortfall of Rs 7.59 crore across these talukas.



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