Foreign jaunts by Chandigarh bureaucrats under scanner

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Chandigarh : They flew business class and lived in expensive hotels in Europe. Lavish foreign trips by Chandigarh bureaucrats at the cost of the taxpayers’ money have caused the union ministry of home affairs (MHA) to raise an eyebrow.

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In a communication, the MHA has asked the adviser to the Chandigarh union territory administrator to explain the “factual position” on the controversial and costly trips – together running into millions – by bureaucrats to European destinations between 2005 and 2007.

Apart from business class travel by the officials, what has irked the MHA is they hired rooms at phenomenally high rates ranging from Rs.30,000 to Rs.40,000 per night.

The matter first came to light in February this year when a local resident filed a Right to Information (RTI) application with the administration, seeking details of the foreign jaunts of the city’s top bureaucrats.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had this month made an austerity plea to ministers and government officials. A few ministers in his government even cancelled their foreign trips following his call.

But the trips under question here are those made by Chandigarh’s former home secretary Krishna Mohan (he is now a financial commissioner in Haryana), former finance secretary S.K. Sandhu (now serving in the Punjab government), tourism secretary J.S. Bir and tourism director Vivek Atray.

These officials spent over Rs.5 million during their trips. The highest amount spent was Rs.1.9 million by home secretary Krishna Mohan on four trips abroad. Tourism director Atray, a much junior officer, almost equalled the record with an expense of Rs.1.6 million. Sandhu and Bir spent Rs.950,000 and Rs.400,000 on their trips.

The daily expenses of these officials ranged from Rs.33,000 to Rs.55,000 during these trips.

Incidentally, all officials made their trips to European destinations and some of them stayed in expensive hotels beyond their entitlement.

Sandhu made a trip to Belgium with a chief engineer to study underpasses there to replicate the model in Chandigarh. Even before they left, it was common knowledge that Sandhu was going to be repatriated to his home state Punjab and the chief engineer was to retire – both within a few months of their trip.

Ironically, when Krishna Mohan became Chandigarh’s home secretary in 2005, he travelled to Berlin on an economy ticket for just over Rs.36,000. His subsequent trips to London, Berlin and other places cost between Rs.185,000 and Rs.252,000. Atray also travelled business class to Berlin for over Rs.124,000.

The trips of both officers were to the World Travel Mart (WTM) held in London.

Sources in the administration said that a reply to the MHA would be prepared after going through the expenditure of public money made by the officials.