HAVING made it mandatory for its officials to hire taxis rather than buy new vehicles – when their old official vehicles are declared unfit for use – the cash-starved Punjab government has now relaxed its own norms, allowing certain categories of officials to buy new vehicles. A senior bureaucrat in the finance department justified the exemption saying that due to the hiring of vehicles, the “image of high-ranking officials was taking a hit”.
“There is an aura associated with the offices of high-ranking officials. For example, a divisional commissioner looks after a number of districts and if he moves on hired vehicles, the image of the officer and the office takes a hit. So it was decided to exempt some categories and allow them to purchase new vehicles,” additional secretary (finance) Parveen Kumar Thind said, while explaining the government’s decision to dilute the guidelines, which had been issued on December 4, 2014, as part of the resource-starved state’s austerity measures.
Top bureaucrats, high court judges and senior superintendents of police are among those who have now been granted the relaxation by the finance department, which has sent orders in this regard in a letter dated August 27, 2015. As per the letter – sent to all heads of departments, commissioners, deputy commissioners, SSPs and to the registrar, Punjab and Haryana High Court – the HC judges, Punjab chief secretary, additional chief secretary, financial commissioners, principal secretaries and administrative secretaries have been allowed the privilege of buying new official vehicles.
Among others to get the exemption are “vehicles associated with protocol at the Punjab civil secretariat” and those accompanying the chief minister, deputy chief minister, ministers and MLAs.
The finance department, however, claimed that the latest guidelines are in continuation to the ones issued on December 4, 2014. Interestingly, the earlier guidelines make no mention of the chief minister, deputy chief minister, ministers and MLAs but the new diluted version states that they are also exempt from hiring vehicles.
The December 4 guidelines state that in government offices, where new vehicles are needed, arrangements should be made to “hire from the market”. The letter had noted that many offices were sending proposals for new vehicles and pointed out that given the financial condition of the state, such proposals cannot be approved for the time-being.
The letter had also noted that the government decision would apply to all government offices, public sector institutions, semi-government and government aided institutions, tribunals, societies, commissions and offices of local government/panchayat department.
Since they were part of austerity measures, limits were also set for the number of kilometres that officials could travel in the hired cars. Deputy commissioners were entitled to travel a maximum of 2,500 kms a month on such hired vehicles; sub-divisional magistrates, additional deputy commissioners, executive magistrates could travel up to 2,200 kms a month while police officials could travel a maximum of 2,350 kilometres. For any travel more than the specified limits, officials were required to pay from their pockets, the guidelines said.
An official of the finance department said the December 4 guidelines had come about after comprehensive analysis, when the department observed that hiring vehicles was more viable than buying new ones. The official said a comparative analysis showed that the government had to spend nearly three times more in case of new vehicles, as opposed to hiring, because it had to account for driver salary, maintenance of the vehicles and fuel expenses.
The new guidelines come close on the heels of the Punjab government’s decision to buy Toyota Innovas for security personnel who accompany MLAs. The vehicles are to be bought in two rounds. “As many as 80 Innova vehicles are to be bought in the two rounds. Tenders have been floated but the bids are yet to be opened by a committee constituted for the purpose,” said Punjab Transport Commissioner Harmail Singh.