TIGHTENING THE screws on state-run companies, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan is examining their spending on fringe benefits, such as perks, facilities and foreign travel, for senior officials of public sector undertakings in the oil and gas sector.
In a letter dated March 14, Pradhan’s ministry asked all PSUs to submit a report on the perks and facilities being provided to board-level directors, highlighting their monetary implications on the company’s balance sheet and red-flagging if they did not fall within official guidelines.
Pradhan’s move follows complaints received from the Central Vigilance Commission and the Cabinet Secretariat, which indicated that PSUs under his ministry were handing out a number of such benefits to their directors — some of these perks are said to be beyond norms prescribed by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE).
“It is also not clear whether these facilities/perks are being given with the approval of the board of the PSUs,” said the ministry’s letter. A consolidated note, it said, should also be put up “within a month” before the respective boards for information.
In April, Pradhan recorded his concern over foreign travel by officials in these PSUs. Following directions from his office, the ministry sent a separate communication to the PSUs seeking details of foreign trips by officials, with the purpose and outcomes to be clearly defined.
“Against the name of each officer, the number of times he has visited abroad and names of the countries should be mentioned. The purpose of each foreign visit and outcome of the visit shall also be mentioned against each name,” said the note dated April 17.
The details are being sought from financial year 2014-15 till date, which coincides with Pradhan’s administrative control over the PSUs. Incidentally, overseas visits by PSU officials are first cleared by the Secretary and then by the Minister, with all such proposals outlining the purpose of the visits.
PSU employees enjoy a number of fringe benefits, such as special dearness allowance for certain categories, fuel and light charges, expenses on cleaning material and garden maintenance, and even wages for sweepers and domestic help.
Top executives are also provided with furniture, air-conditioners and office vehicles, with an option to buy them either at depreciated or market value, whichever is higher, after two years of personal use.
The perks, PSU officials claim, are necessary to attract and retain the best talent in the industry, which has seen a massive exodus of employees in the past to the private sector.