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Apex court relief for online lottery

Gangtok, Sept. 19: The Supreme Court has allowed Playwin, the country’s first online lottery promoted by the Sikkim government, to continue its operations until a final verdict.

The breather comes three months after Sikkim High Court ordered the directorate of lotteries, under Sikkim’s finance department, to cancel the marketing agency of Tashi Delek Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of Playwin Infravest, belonging to the Mumbai-based Essel group. The appointment had come after Tashi Delek Gaming Solutions won an open tender and later appointed Playwin as its sub-agent.

In its June 24 ruling, the high court had directed the Sikkim government to terminate Playwin’s agency within three months and call fresh tenders to appoint a new marketing agency.

Playwin was to close operations by September 24.

Under the seven-year contract with Playwin, launched with fanfare in March 2002, the Sikkim government was to get a revenue of at least Rs 780 crore. Chief minister Pawan Chamling has repeatedly said the money generated would be spent on education, health and poverty alleviation programmes.

Hearing separate special leave petitions filed by the Sikkim government and Tashi Delek Gaming Solutions against the order, the Supreme Court told the state on September 12 to make interim arrangements for Playwin to continue with its operations until it delivers its final order.

The high court ruling had come in response to two separate writ petitions — one filed by the Mumbai-based Modi Entertainment Networks Private Limited and the other by two residents of Sikkim, J.K. Bhandari and Rajendra Upreti.

The high court said it found out after hearing all sides involved in the case that the government had not followed the rules while inviting the tender. The court told the government to float fresh tenders following “rules, norms and procedures”. It said the bidding companies should be given “sufficient time to purchase tender forms” and suggested that the successful bidder of the “properly held” tenders be made the marketing agent this time. The government has to publish the tender notice in at least two major national dailies.

Modi Entertainment, in its writ petition, had complained that it had not been given enough time to fill in the tender forms. It said it had got barely two days to collect and fill in the application and submit it to the government after the tender notice was published in the Delhi and Calcutta editions of an English daily on July 12, 2001.

However, in the order, the high court had said the government had the “liberty” to either appoint a competent “selectee” or “interim” marketing agent until a new agent was appointed.

Speaking to The Telegraph, advocate-general S.P. Wangdi said the Supreme Court took cognisance of this and allowed Playwin to continue operations till a final verdict. Sikkim state lotteries director L.P. Barphungpa said Playwin would now continue till further orders.

Wangdi said the revenue earned from the online lottery was reflected in the annual budget of the state government passed by the Sikkim Assembly. He said Sikkim was promised 20 per cent of the gross sales, the highest revenue received by a state from online lotteries.

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