Suddenly, after being buried for nearly four months, the controversial episode of Silly Souls Café and Bar, the up-market Assagao food enterprise purportedly run by the kin of Union Minister Smriti Irani, sprung back to life. But not for the media though.
On Monday, Goa's Chief Secretary Puneet Kumar Goel, took up the matter of the excise licence of the controversial outlet, but the development completely skipped the radars of the captains manning the cockpits of media organisations.
Goel began hearing 'final arguments' in the appeal filed by lawyer-activist Aires Rodrigues who has challenged the October 20 order of Excise Commissioner Narayan Gad. Gad in that order had rejected Rodrigues' plea to cancel the licence. The chief secretary has asked all parties to file their written arguments by March 20 and also fixed the next hearing on March 23.
The sordid affair of Silly Souls Café and Bar had hit headlines and dominated the news for weeks in July last year after Rodrigues had filed his first complaint before Gad in which he alleged fraud and illegal process in the issue of the Excise licence in January 2021 to one Anthony D'Gama, the owner of the premises. It had been renewed in June 2022, although a year had passed since D'Gama passed away.
On the basis of a lease agreement, Rodrigues had also alleged that the outlet was leased to Eightall Food and Beverages Limited Liability Partnership, which in turn was linked to the family of Irani.
The matter had snowballed into a major story in the national media after the Congress party latched on to it and accused Irani of abuse of power to secure licences illegally. Irani in turn denied any links, either hers or her family's, to the concern and sued Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh and others in the Delhi High Court for libel.
Irani or her kin have not been enjoined to the proceedings before the Chief Secretary seeking cancellation of the excise licence.
On ground zero, meanwhile, the Silly Souls Café and Bar at Assagao, continues to be inoperative even as the lawyer representing the D'Gamas Benny Nazareth has submitted that Eightall Food and Beverages has nothing to do with the restaurant and it is being run and managed by the D'Gamas themselves. Nazareth argues that a 'lease agreement' is invalid in law if it hasn't metamorphosed into a registered 'lease deed'.
Rodrigues has also challenged the transfer of the excise licence to the widow of D'Gama, which Gad in his October order had permitted although it was renewed in a deceased man’s name.
While the link to Irani's family hangs on the thread of the fact that the premises where the bar and restaurant operates is also the same address from where Eightall Food and Beverages, conducts its primary business. Also, the GST number allotted to the company is also the same as the one filed by Silly Souls Cafe and Bar with aggregator websites.
The lack of interest in the whole imbroglio now, both in media and political circles, meanwhile, is perhaps owing to the lack of interest in the venture from the Irani family.