Allegations that union minister Smriti Irani’s daughter was illegally operating the Silly Souls Cafe and Bar in Goa’s Assagao have stirred up a political slugfest – with the BJP and the Congress trading potshots – and several questions. Is Zoish Irani a tenant of the property that houses the restaurant bar or is she a proprietor? Did she lease it? We don’t know yet.
What we do know now, according to government records and submissions made to Maharashtra’s registrar of companies, is that at least two directors of the restaurant’s alleged parent company, Eightall Food and Beverages, are also directors of two firms linked to Irani’s husband and son. Eightall operates from the same address as the restaurant, and one of its directors used to run another Silly Souls Café – which has now been shut – in Delhi's Chhattarpur.
In an interview with food vlogger Kunal Vijayakar in April, Zoish Irani had detailed the motive behind opening what she described as an international restaurant in Goa. Smriti Irani , tagging her daughter and the restaurant bar’s social media account saying she was “proud”.
But the response to an RTI application filed by activist Aires Rodrigues suggests that the property was built without getting the construction or repair licence from the Assagao panchayat as required by law. Besides, land records indicate that part of the restaurant is on tenanted land, which can’t be used for any purpose other than farming as such land is protected under the Goa Land Use Act.
On Wednesday, following a complaint by Rodrigues, Goa’s directorate of panchayats asked the block development officer to investigate the alleged violations and take necessary action.
Notably, it was on the basis of another RTI reply obtained by Rodrigues that the restaurant’s proprietor was accused of fraudulently renewing its liquor licence, which is in the name of a dead man. Goa’s excise department has since issued a “despite the licence holder having passed away on May 17, 2021”.
Irani has denied that her daughter ran the restaurant and pointed out that neither the RTI reply nor the excise notice mentions her family. She has trashed the allegations as a “conspiracy” and sent a legal notice to three Congress leaders for allegedly maligning her family.
The land the restaurant is on as well as its liquor licence belonged to father and son Abel D’Gama and Anthony D’Gama, both of whom are dead.
According to an application to the Assagao panchayat by Anthony D’Gama for a no objection certificate to run a restaurant bar in December 2020, the establishment was located at house 452 at Bouta Waddo in Assagao. An application for a liquor licence was submitted to the excise department under Anthony’s name in January 2021, months before he died in May.
Rodrigues alleged that construction of the restaurant started in 2019-20, even as the RTI response states that the Assagao panchayat hasn’t issued “any construction or repair licence from 2019 till date to Anthony D’Gama or any other person for house 452 under survey 236/22 situated at Bouta Waddo in Assagao”.
Asked about the allegations, Kartik Kelkar, deputy sarpanch of the Assagao panchayat, said, “The restaurant came into existence towards the end of 2020. Before then it was a small house in an open field but nobody lived there. Anthony D’Gama, along with one of his relatives, came to the panchayat for permission to open a bar and restaurant. No objection certificate was given to him to run the same in the premises of house 452 at Bounda Vaddo. Any structure constructed without permission cannot be considered valid.”
Assagao’s land records show that house number 452 is covered under land survey 236, which consists of subdivisions 21 and 22. While subdivision 22 has Anthony listed as the occupant, subdivision 21 is tenanted land occupied by Abel and cultivated by one Dharma Vasu Pole as the sole tenant.
“Before the construction of the restaurant, there was a small house of 200 sq metres in an open field,” Rodrigues alleged, adding that the field was in subdivision 21. “The restaurant was constructed without permission of the panchayat and occupied a tenanted field in absolute breach of the law.”
In his complaint to the directorate of panchayats, the activist has demanded that the Assagao panchayat demolish the restaurant.
Newslaundry contacted Siddhi Harlankar, director of panchayats in Goa, Rajesh Asolkar, secretary of Assagao panchayat, and minister Irani to ask about the allegations about the cafe and bar, specifically the revelations in contained in the RTI response to Rodrigues. This report will be updated if they respond.
Newslaundry also reached out to Dean D'Gama, son of Anthony D'Gama, but he refused to comment on the issue. Dean used to handle the D'Gamas Lux homestay at the property but the facility has now been shut.
House 452 and the Iranis
In an earlier complaint to the state excise commissioner, Rodrigues mentioned a company called Eightall Food and Beverages. The firm, incorporated in December 2020 and registered the following month with GST number 30AAIFE7039H1ZM, . That’s also the address of Silly Souls Cafe and Bar.
According to details of partnerships submitted to Maharashtra’s registrar of companies seen by Newslaundry, Eightall has five directors – Rahul Vohra, Geeta Vajani, Harsh Khaneja, Mangesh Joshi, and Kanika Seth. Vohra and Joshi are also directors of companies run by Smriti Irani’s husband Zubin Irani.
Vohra, an actor, producer and director, is a director with Zubin and his son Zohr in Ugraya Mercantile. He also runs a couple of companies – Spark 84 Adworks and Meethapani – with Zubin’s ex-wife Mona Irani.
Joshi serves as a director of Ugraya Farms along with Zubin, Zohr and Zubin’s sister-in-law Mehernaz Kaizad Irani, of Shree Bawaji Foods with Zubin, and of Heramba Life Sciences with his wife Meenal Joshi and Zohr.
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