A political row has erupted between Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union Minister Smriti Irani and the Congress party over a luxury restaurant— Silly Souls Cafe and Bar in Goa's Assagao, allegedly operated by Irani's daughter Zoish Irani. It was found that the restaurant and bar had renewed their liquor licence by providing documents to authorities of a deceased person– Anthony Dgama.
The bar's licence was given to Dgama who died in 2021. However, the application for renewal of the liquor licence for Silly Souls Bar was submitted to the excise department in June this year under his name.
BOOM spoke to Aires Rodrigues, the lawyer who filed an RTI application after he learned that the Bar had submitted "fraudulent documents" for renewal of the licence to understand what exactly went wrong.
The controversy emerged after it was found that the owners had renewed the restaurant's liquor licence using the name of a deceased person.
Meanwhile, several Congress workers have shared videos of food critic Kunal Vijayakar's show Khane Mein Kya Hai, in which he went to the same restaurant to try out the menu. The Congress party now alleges that Smriti Irani's daughter has been running an "illegal bar".
However, Smriti Irani has defended her daughter saying that "my 18-year-old daughter is studying…my 18-year-old daughter does not run an illegal bar."
Why Was The RTI Filed And What Did It Say?
Rodrigues, the lawyer who filed the RTI, told BOOM that many of his colleagues and friends in that village had informed him that the Silly Souls Cafe and Bar plays music till 4 am. As per the law, the music in bars should be stopped by 10 pm.
"They said that they had made multiple complaints about the issue but no action was taken by the police and administration. It is only possible when anyone has good relations with the local administration," he told BOOM.
So, Rodrigues wanted to find out more about this bar. "I applied for an RTI to know how they got their license and who runs this bar," he said.
"Then all this surfaced and everybody came to know who is running this place. From various sources we came to know that Irani's family is running this place," he told BOOM.
Rodrigues added that to get a Bar licence in Goa, there should be an existing running restaurant. "In this case, there was no running restaurant," he said.
On 21 July, Narayan M Gad, the excise commissioner of Goa issued a show-cause notice to the restaurant after receiving a complaint from Rodrigues, who stated that the owners had submitted "fraudulent and fabricated documents" to get the licence.
The notice accessed by BOOM states that "the said licence (Silly Souls liquor licence) was renewed last month, despite the licence holder having passed away on 17 May 2021."
On 22 June, the restaurant applied for the licence renewal in the name of Anthony Dgama. However, Dgama had passed away in May 2021, the show-cause notice stated.
Rodrigues added that the Aadhar card to Dgama was issued in December 2020, a week before the application for the license. As per Aadhar, he was a resident of Mumbai's Vile Parle.
The notice that was served by the state excise department to Silly Souls said that the licence renewal application "was signed by someone on behalf of the licence holder with an undertaking that please renew this licence for the year 2022-23 and will transfer the said licence within six months".
Rodrigues has also obtained Dgama's death certificate from Mumbai's municipal corporation to substantiate his statements.
He said that in 2021 when the application for a licence was submitted to the excise department, the applicant mentioned Goa's address. However, when the application was sent by the excise department to various offices including the North Goa police for verification, the police told the excise department that the man doesn't live in Goa. "Still they have steadily approved the licence in 2021," he said.
Rodrigues also said that the application for renewal should be submitted between March and April but Silly Souls applied in June and within days, it got "renewed."
"Nobody knows who is Dgama and nobody has seen him. The matter is set to be heard in court on 29 July. It will be clear on that day only," he said.
Smriti Irani's husband Zubin Irani in his Instagram bio has mentioned that he is co-founder of Silly Souls Cafe.
What Has The Opposition Said?
Soon after the allegation erupted that Zoish Irani, 18, daughter of Smriti Irani has been running a bar Silly Souls illegally in Goa, in a press briefing, the Congress party's spokespersons Pawan Khera and Jairam Ramesh attacked Smriti Irani and demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should sack her from her position of an Union Minister.
"We demand from the prime minister that Smriti Irani should be immediately sacked as a minister from the Union cabinet. You owe it to this country, to the youth of this country [sic]," Khera said in the press brief.
In a tweet, Khera shared an article titled 'Smriti Irani is a proud mom as praise pours in for her daughter's Goa restaurant' and said "Which Smriti Zubin Irani is lying? The one who on 14th April 2022 said she was proud of her daughter's restaurant or the one who today says her daughter has nothing to do with the Silly Souls Bar & Cafe?"
After Congress, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) also questioned the BJP and slammed them for "hiding the truth in the case of the illegal license of a restaurant owned by Union Minister Smriti Irani."
Kunal Vijayakar had also posted photos of the food from the restaurant, and in the caption, he mentioned Zoish Irani as the "owner of the restaurant." The same post was shared by Union Minister on her Instagram story.
How Has Smriti Irani Responded To It?
On Saturday, the Union minister held a press conference and said that her 18-year-old daughter's character was "assassinated by the Congressmen". "Her fault is that her mother fought the Lok Sabha election against Rahul Gandhi from Amethi in 2014, in 2019... her fault is that her mother, as has been said by the Congress spokesperson, does press conferences against Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi," Irani said.
She further claimed that her daughter's character was "publicly mutilated by the Congress party and they claim that the mutilation stemmed from a show-cause notice."
On Sunday, she sent legal notices to opposition party Congress leaders seeking an unconditional apology and a withdrawal of the allegations made against her 18-year-old daughter Zoish Irani.
"The false allegations were intended to hurt the reputation of our client as a minister and a person in public life, and also to outrage her modesty and that of her daughter," the legal notice said.
Irani asked the Congress party, "Where is my daughter's name in the papers that he flashed? The allegation that my daughter runs an illegal bar is malicious, with the intent not only to assassinate her character but also to politically malign me."
She further claimed that the campaign against her and her daughter is being done at the direction of the Congress leadership. "Because I had the audacity to hold a press conference and question Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi on the Rs 5,000 crore loot of the Indian treasury."
Congress officials have said that the opposition party will reply to the legal notice sent to them by Irani as soon as they receive it.