शनिवार, 6 सितंबर 2008

Babus' flights of fancy

by Shyamlal Yadav

India TodayWhen Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently wrote to his cabinetministers, asking them to curtail their expenses on air travel andundertake foreign trips only when deemed "absolutely necessary", itwas widely dismissed as an exercise in futility.

After all, such steps in the past have not exactly produced thedesired results. Indeed, a look at the volume of the babu traffic to overseas destinations suggests that the prime minister's lamentamounts to howling after the horses have bolted the stable.

Following an investigation on frequent fliers in the UPA Government inFebruary this year, India Today filed separate Right to Information(RTI) applications to every Union ministry except the Ministry ofExternal Affairs (MEA) on February 28 this year, seeking details offoreign visits made by officials of the rank of director and above.

India Today has received the information in 1,297 pages. The detailsof trips related to trainings of over one month have been excluded.The information gathered is a result of over 80 applications,clarifications, appeals and reminders. Despite these efforts, theministries of Railways, Earth Sciences and the Department of Personneland Training are yet to give a final reply.

Also, the designations and postings of a few officials may not be thelatest as they may have been transferred or would have retired by now.The information throws light on the fact that 1,576 officials of therank of director and above have travelled more than 5.65 crore km andstayed 24,458 days abroad over the past 40 months (from January 1,2005 to April 30, 2008).

While details about the total expenses incurred were not madeavailable, information received from 45 of the 50 Central ministries(including two departments: atomic energy and space) shows thatofficials from these ministries spent more than Rs 56.38 crore onglobetrotting. In a few cases, costs include expenses incurred ondelegates or companions but disaggregated figures were not provided.

Topping the list of frequent fliers is the Ministry of Commerce whose101 officials have travelled more than 1.12 crore km, covering 5,751days abroad and incurring a cost of Rs 8.99 crore.

This mileage clocked by directors, joint secretaries (JS), additionalsecretaries (AS) and secretaries happens to be more than the oneclocked by ministers from all ministries put together (1.02 crore km)during a period of three-and-a-half years.

This may have been necessary to enable an increase in foreign tradeand bilateral treaties but even then it's hard to justify themagnitude of such trips. It is not as if the babus of the commercedepartment are the only ones who are flying high.

Besides commerce, six other ministries including Water Resources,Finance, Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, Agriculture, andScience and Technology have earned the distinction of frequentfliers-each of these ministries have logged 1,000 days or more oftravel abroad.In terms of expenditure, officials of 18 ministries have spent over Rs1 crore each. The number of travellers in each ministry is sizeablewith at least 13 ministries having a minimum of 50 officials whotravelled abroad.

101 officials of the Ministry of Commerce have travelled over 1.12crore km, covering 5,751 days abroad and incurring a cost of Rs 8.99crThese ministries with Defence in the lead (166) include HomeAffairs, Finance, Water Resources, Commerce, Information andBroadcasting, Agriculture, Health and Family Welfare, Labour andEmployment, Communications and IT, Urban Development and Science andTechnology. However, the Ministry of Defence did not reveal the details of expenses incurred on the trips of their officials.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Ministry of Environment andForests where despite the global buzz on climate change, only fiveofficials have travelled, 2.88 lakh km, spending Rs 43.85 lakh andstaying abroad for 111 days.

Thirty five officials of the Ministry of Textiles have travelled more
than 10 lakh km and stayed 559 days abroad spending over Rs 1.32crore.All the ministries have stressed that the trips are "purely official".The Ministry of Finance guidelines state, "No officer should undertakemore than four official visits abroad a year".

And if there is an exception, the proposal is considered by thescreening committee of secretaries for officials of every rank.Restrictions have indeed been placed on the secretaries. For instance,the Cabinet Secretariat circular says, "Secretaries to the Governmentof India should travel only in the most essential circumstances andwhen unavoidable." But such guidelines are observed more in breach.

Information gathered by India Today shows that along with S.N. Menon(37 trips), Chandrapal (9), T.K. Viswanathan (7), P.K. Misra (8), V.Subramanian (10), Naresh Dayal (6), Ranjit Issar (5), M.S. Srinivasan(8), R.V. Shahi (15), Radha Singh (8), T. Nanda Kumar (6) travelledfrequently as secretaries in the ministries of Commerce; Small andMicro Enterprises; Law and Justice; Agriculture; New and RenewableEnergy; Health and Family Welfare; Housing; and Urban PovertyAlleviation; Petroleum and Natural Gas; Power; Agriculture andConsumer Affairs respectively.

When the minister and secretary of a department are required to visitabroad, the prime minister is supposed to be notified. Officialsvisiting foreign shores get a daily allowance of $75 per day incategory A countries in addition to their hotel accommodation.If the food is provided by the Government, the official gets only 25per cent of this amount. Secretary-level officials travel first class,additional secretaries and joint secretaries are entitled to travelbusiness class while officials of lower ranks are entitled to travelby the economy class.Approvals for foreign visits are clearly defined. Travels of officials
up to the level of joint secretary are processed in consultation withthe financial adviser of the concerned ministry while foreign trips ofofficials of the level of additional secretaries and above areprocessed with the approval of the minister concerned and thescreening committee of secretaries under the chairmanship of the cabinet secretary.

0 टिप्पणियाँ: