By: Sudhansu Mohanty
It is nobody’s case that foreign visits are not essential in a globalised economy. Negotiations and consultations are an intrinsic part of bilateral, multilateral and international ecosystems. But sundry inconsequential visits are a problem. The ministry of finance and the cabinet secretariat have put limits on the number and duration of visits. Since visits abroad entail spending precious foreign exchange, secretaries have been directed to be strict in sanctioning them and to use our permanent missions abroad to represent the country instead. Sadly, these directions are rarely heeded.
The urge to go on foreign trips is endemic. Proposals for deputation abroad are immaculately crafted and processed with such speed that it could easily give a lie to the putative snail-pace of the Indian bureaucracy. It admits no restraint, no shame, no twinge of conscience — indeed, the tenacity is admirable. The urge to go abroad is rather natural, flowing from an immutable human impulse — obsessive hedonistic individualism.
Let’s accept reality. The standards of financial propriety enjoined on public servants — to exercise the same vigilance with public money as a person of ordinary prudence would with his own — are rarely met. It is disturbing when proponents of a junket suggest that the extant orders be rewritten so that no questions are asked about their trips. I have even known an officer to travel abroad 60-odd times in three years, against the prescribed 12 (four per annum), spending about two-thirds of his time, excluding travel time, abroad.
There are wheels within wheels in foreign junkets. For instance, when economising measures were taken for domestic travel (officers who were earlier eligible for executive class travel now had to travel economy), the measures for international travel were only symbolic. Those eligible to travel first class (secretaries and above) were downgraded to business class, while those eligible to travel business (joint and additional secretaries) and economy class remained unaffected. The one good economising measure was that the tickets had to be bought at the lowest fare in the class. This brought an end to the free companion ticket facility. I myself insisted on the lowest fare rule and was staggered by the stout resistance and fusillade of bad logic trotted out against it.
The impulse to travel using government money when sponsorship from international agencies is available has assumed alarming proportions. All because officials are allowed to travel business class. It matters little that such acts mean the wanton depletion of taxpayer money. So, officials should live by the following rules: Thou shalt not covet foreign visits except those that are most necessary, continued…