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Express Investigation concluding part: Auditors objected as 2 officers went for a ‘Nice’ break, all at UT’s cost

The audit observations shared in response to the RTI revealed that the officers not only flew business class despite no explanation forthcoming for their entitlement to this perk but also travelled to Rome after the conclusion of their official meeting, where they stayed in a luxury hotel.

S B Deepak Kumar and Prince Dhawan

An official trip to Hannover, Germany, ended up in Rome, while one to Paris concluded in the tourist hub of Nice on the French Riviera, all at the expense of Society for the Promotion of Information Technology in Chandigarh (SPIC) (from capacity building funds). This is the story of S B Deepak Kumar, then Secretary, Information Technology, and Prince Dhawan, Director of Information Technology, who faced a series of objections from the audit department for three of their overseas official trips during which they extended the duration of their stay and continued to draw a daily allowance. At present, both IAS officers are posted in Delhi.

This information came to light in response to an RTI application by R K Garg, a senior citizen, who sought audit report of SPIC from 2015 to 2018. It was the first such audit of these society funds from April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2018.

From Germany to Rome

According to details, in February 2016, both Deepak Kumar and Prince Dhawan were given permission by then UT Adviser Vijay Dev to attend a “Make In India” conference at Hannover in Germany from March 14 to March 18.

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The audit observations shared in response to the RTI revealed that the officers not only flew business class despite no explanation forthcoming for their entitlement to this perk but also travelled to Rome after the conclusion of their official meeting, where they stayed in a luxury hotel.

“An amount of Rs 13,93,170 to Kouni Travels Private Limited was paid for hotel stay and insurance. Hotel stay in Rome amounting to Rs 4,89,286 and air tickets from Berlin to Rome amounting to Rs 39,180 and insurance amounting to Rs 11,052 is not justified,” the audit report pointed out.

According to RTI records, though the conference was scheduled from March 14, the two went on business class tickets to Germany on March 10. Airfare of Rs 6,92,085, including insurance, was sanctioned to Kouni Travels Private Limited.

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The audit report said, “The necessary instructions/rules/guidelines of capacity building programme whereby the officers were entitled to travel through business class were not made available to the audit.”

Also, details revealed that travel expenses of “two extra members” amounting to Rs 2,63,855 made to M/S Kouni Travels Pvt Limited were “received back” only on October 10 that year after a gap of seven months.

The records underline that the exhibition and conference fee of Rs 1,01,842 (Rs 50,921 for each officer) was paid out of PNB account of SPIC instead of the capacity building programme account.

Travel card worth lakhs

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The two also purchased a travel card despite getting a daily allowance. “Expenditure of Rs 2,06,116 by SPIC president (S B Deepak Kumar) and Rs 76,095 by SPIC CEO (Prince Dhawan) out of Travel Card is not justified in view of the fact that the officers have been paid daily allowance @ $100 per day for meeting day-to-day expenses,” said the audit report.

Even though the conference was from March 14 to March 18, the officers spent 11 days in Europe during which they were paid the daily allowance.

The audit report said, “The payment of daily allowance for 11 days was not justified in view of the conference period that is from March 14, 2016, to March 18, 2016.”

“Moreover the payment for 11 days has not been worked out by the office properly resulting into excess payment of Rs 7,359 to each officer.” It was further observed that “security amounting to Rs 6,000 was paid for each officer for an international phone card from Matrix Cellular (International) Services Limited and the security amount has not been adjusted.”

From Paris to Nice

In September 2015, the two officers were given permission to attend a “Smart countries and cities congress” to be held from September 1 to September 3 in Paris, France. Records show that an expenditure of Rs 12,59,577 was incurred on air fare, insurance, accommodation (single occupancy) and Eurail pass on account of this visit.

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After the conference ended on September 3, the two spent four days at the tourist town of Nice on French Riviera from September 4 which is about 686 km from Paris by train and bought a Eurail pass.

The audit report stated, “Daily allowance for 30.08.2015, 04.09.2015 to 08.09.2015 at $100 per day amounting to Rs 39,900 was not justified keeping in view that the conference concluded on September 3, 2015.”

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RTI records show that the two purchased Euro travel card worth Rs 4,00,000 from ICICI Bank Limited and an expenditure of 2882.76 Euros (Rs 2,10,384) was incurred on it.

“This expenditure is not a fit charge as the officer has been paid a daily allowance @ $100 per day for meeting day-to-day expenses,” the audit observed. It also objected to the security of Rs 6,000 paid for an international phone card from Matrix Cellular (International) Services Limited.

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The agency further found that cash of Rs 15,000 was paid to both the officers as miscellaneous expenses and “the details of expenditure incurred by the officers out of Rs 15,000 along with supporting vouchers and balance if any refunded to the SPIC were not made available to the audit”.

Euro travel

In 2015, Deepak Kumar and Prince Dhawan attended Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona from November 17 to November 19.

RTI records show that the two officers again extended their visit, this time for nine days.

Details revealed that a sum of Rs 5,98,500 each was paid to World Expo and Conventions Management (WECOM) for business class airfare, accommodation, registration, meals, visa fee, etc.

Objecting to the business class travel, the audit report stated, “The necessary instructions/rules/guidelines of capacity building programme whereby the officers were entitled to travel through business class were not made available to the audit.”

The two officers were paid a daily allowance amounting to Rs 1,15,930 for nine days. The audit report stated, “The payment of daily allowance for nine days is not justified in view of the conference period i.e. 17.11.2015 to 19.11.2015. Payment of daily allowance at full rate i.e. $100 per day is not justified as the registration fee includes breakfast and lunch.” RTI records reveal that the two also purchased Euro Travel cards worth Rs 2 lakh (Rs 1,00,000 for each officer).

The audit report stated, “Expenditure of Rs 1,53,430 (Rs 1,00,000+53,430 unspent balance of previous travel card) by SPIC president and Rs 41,676 by the SPIC CEO out of Travel card is not justified in view of the fact that the officers have been paid daily allowance @ $100 per day for meeting day-to-day expenses.”

RTI details reveal that this time the expenses on the Matrix calling card (Rs 6,000 each) also included Rs 3,243.15 for excess calls.

The officers bought Eurail Global Pass from Grand Travel Planners Private Limited for Rs 68,710 (Rs 34,355 each). Objecting to this expense, the auditors wrote, “Expenditure on Eurail pass amounting to Rs 68,710 is not justified as the registration fee includes local conveyance.”

The audit report also objected to ticket change charges of Rs 37,503. “Reason for change in ticket could not be ascertained from the records made available to the audit.”

UT Adviser Dharam Pal, when contacted, asked to see the audit objections. “I will get the matter investigated.’’

The audit objections to a total expenditure of Rs 63.5 lakh from the SPIC funds were set aside as both the IAS officers were heading the SPIC department at that time. RK Garg said that “these regular trips have pointed the finger at our system”. “These sorties have pointed the finger at our system. Our AG office has no teeth because all these years they have never sought replies from officers, although there are clear instructions to avoid foreign visits and prefer video discussions. There is no cap on expenditure. The most important point is the usefulness of these tours. What has the city gained?”

Both Prince Dhawan and Deepak Kumar were given calls and messages.

Messages on both text and WhatsApp were sent. Even screenshots of the report were sent to them to seek their comments. But they did not respond despite viewing the messages. Also, they disconnected the calls made by the Express later.

First published on: 01-08-2022 at 01:47:23 am
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