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New Delhi: A Right to Information request has revealed that Silly Souls, the controversial Goa restaurant and bar located at a private home in Assagao, Goa – now the subject of a libel suit by BJP leader Smriti Irani against Congress leaders – has a food license issued by the state Directorate of Food and Drugs Administration to a company controlled by the senior minister’s husband and their children.
Irani told the Dehi high court in a sworn statement last month that she and her daughter had no connection to the Silly Souls Cafe and Bar at House 452, Bouta Waddo, Assagao, Goa.
The Union woman and child development minister has been battling criticism ever since the Goa excise commissioner issued notice in July alleging the liquor license of Silly Souls Cafe and Bar had been renewed illegally. Media reports cited social media posts by the minister and an interview by Irani’s daughter, Zoish – in which she nods in agreement when a food critic asks if the restaurant is hers – but Irani told the court the establishment was not family owned.
Now, an RTI response from the Goa government to advocate Aires Rodrigues – who had earlier obtained the information that the bar’s excise license was illegally renewed – has revealed that the Directorate of Food and Drugs Administration’s licence to Silly Souls was issued in the name of Eightall Food and Beverages Limited Liability Partnership, the very company in which two firms controlled by Smriti Irani’s husband and family, own a 75% stake.
The application, complete with company board resolutions, was made online and approved after a site visit on June 26, 2021.
On July 23, 2021, the Goa government’s FDA directorate issued Eightall Food and Beverage with an FSSA license, bearing number 10621001000195, under the FSS Act.
That this is the same FSSA license number used by Silly Souls Cafe and Bar can be seen from the restaurant’s page on Zomato, the online food ordering app:
The Wire reached out to Smriti Irani via WhatsApp on Thursday evening, sending her a copy of the RTI documents and inviting her to respond to what the official record showed. We will update this story with her comments as and when we receive them.
The Wire had earlier reported on how the bar and restaurant are linked to Irani through three primary ways:
1. It operates from the same address from which the company, Eightall Food and Beverage – controlled by Zubin Irani and their family – conducts its business, according to Registrar of Company filings;
2. The restaurant uses the same GST number as was issued to Eightall at the same address; and
3. Balance sheets show Zubin Irani’s company, Eightall, purchased food and alcohol and maintained an inventory of alchohol
Earlier RTI responses that Rodrigues received noted that the property under survey number 236/22 of Assagao – where Silly Souls Cafe and Bar is located – was leased to Eightall Food and Beverages LLP by one Anthony D’Gama with effect from January 1, 2021, for a period of 10 years at a monthly rent of Rs 50,000.
The liquor licence for the company was renewed in June 2022, Rodrigues found. However, D’Gama had died on May 17, 2021, thus making the renewal illegal, he contended. He said that “fraudulent and fabricated documents were produced” to acquire the liquor licence.
In a show cause notice dated July 21, the excise department said, “The licence was renewed last month, despite the licence holder having passed away on 17/05/2021.”
The new RTI documents obtained by Rodrigues also appear to back up his earlier claim that Silly Souls was granted an excise license even before it had a restaurant license to operate – again, a contravention of the laws. It is, of course, possible that D’Gama ran a restaurant on the premises and had an FSSA license for it, before he leased No. 452 to Eightall.
Excise rules in Goa allow only existing restaurants to be granted excise licenses. Silly Souls Cafe was granted licences for foreign liquor and Indian-made foreign liquor and country liquor in February 2021. But the DFDA’s restaurant license, the latest RTI documents show, was granted only in July 2021.
Goa excise commissioner Narayan Gad will on September 12 continue the hearings on the complaint filed by Aires Rodrigues.