In midst of political row, Goa bar now under town planner lens

Following allegations of illegal construction, the Chief Town Planner (CTP) of Goa has asked the senior town planner of North Goa district to inspect the site on which Silly Souls Café and Bar in Assagao stands and “take the urgent necessary action as may be applicable”.

The upscale restaurant, at the centre of a political row between Congress and Union Minister Smriti Irani, already faces a show cause notice issued by the state Excise Commissioner. Lawyer Aires Rodrigues had filed a complaint before the Excise Commissioner, the Director of Panchayats and the Chief Town Planner accusing the café of illegalities.

In his complaint to the CTP on July 28, Rodrigues had alleged that “a huge illegal construction has come up including a compound wall” on the land bearing the survey number in Assagao and its two subdivisions 21 and 22 on which Silly Soul Café stands. “It is pertinent to note that the above-mentioned Sub-Division 21 is a tenanted field which has been illegally filled. Sub-division 22 is orchard land in which a small house admeasuring around 250 sq m earlier existed,” Rodrigues stated. He attached the land records for the survey number accessed under the Right to Information Act.

Directing the senior town planner to inspect the site, CTP (Planning) Rajesh Naik said in his note of July 28: “It is alleged that illegal construction has been carried out on plots bearing survey number 236/21, 236/22 at Bouta Vaddo, Assagao Village, Bardez Taluka. In the letter it is mentioned that plot bearing survey number 236/21 is a tenanted land which has been illegally filled.”

Rodrigues had also filed a complaint with the Director of Panchayats seeking action against the restaurant alleging that it was illegally constructed without the necessary permission from the Village Panchayat of Assagao. Based on information availed under the Right to Information Act, Rodrigues claimed Tuesday that the restaurant was constructed in 2019-2020 but the Village Panchayat had not issued any licence for construction or repair to the restaurant since 2019.The Director of Panchayats has directed the Mapusa Block Development Officer to probe the complaint.

Rodrigues had complained to the Excise Commissioner that Silly Souls Café and Bar had illegally renewed its liquor licences in the name of Anthony D’Gama who had died in May, 2021. Anthony D’Gama’s wife Merlyn and son Dean, who holds the Power of Attorney for the family, however, filed a reply to the show cause notice that it was “sheer oversight and bona fide omission” that for the last renewal after the death of Anthony D’Gama, “the term ‘late’ remained to be pre-fixed which is a bona fide mistake and is neither deliberate nor willful.”

On Friday, the Excise Commissioner framed two issues for determination — whether the excise licence was obtained by submitting false and inadequate documents and by misrepresenting facts and whether there were procedural irregularities on the part of the Excise officials. The next hearing in the case will be held on August 22.

While the Congress had claimed that the restaurant was run by the daughter of union minister Smriti Irani and accused the minister of “misusing power”, Irani had hit back saying that her daughter was being targeted only because “her mother does press conferences against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.” On Friday, the Delhi High Court directed Congress leaders Pawan Khera, Jairam Ramesh and Netta D’souza to delete and remove their posts on social media against Irani and her daughter in connection with Silly Souls Café and Bar. The court also issued summons to the three Congress leaders.

Responding to the show cause notice of July 21 issued by the Goa Excise Commissioner to Silly Souls Café and Bar, Merlyn and Dean D’Gama stated in their written reply that the restaurant and bar “is exclusively the business of the Respondents (the D’Gamas) and no other person/persons.” Asked if the restaurant had any connection with Irani or her family members, their lawyer Benny Nazareth said on Friday, “No. Absolutely nothing. The owners are the D’Gamas.”

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