In October 2008,the Department of Expenditure announced a austerity measure over the use of frequent flier mileage points earned by government employees from official air travel in India and abroad. Over three years on,not only does the measure appear a non-starter but any possible misuse of such points for personal travel,too,continues unchecked.
The Department of Expenditure under the Finance Ministry had issued a circular stating: All mileage points earned by government employees on tickets purchased for official travel shall be utilised by the concerned department for other official travel by their officers. It added that it would be the responsibility of the officer concerned to ensure that free mileage points are used only for official travel and not for personal trips.
Some departments,including the Prime Ministers Office,had suggested a scheme where frequent flier points earned during official travel could be clubbed into a corporate account for subsequent use.
Replies received from departments through the Right To Information (RTI) route,however,reveal that most ministries and departments have not maintained any record of mileage points earned by their officials or of points transferred to the department. Those that have tried to abide by the circular are still trying to figure out how the points should be transferred for travel of other officials.
While many departments provided the number of points acquired by officers from air travels,they have admitted they do not have any information whether the officers deposited these points with departments accounts considering there are no such accounts in the first place.
Shortly after the 2008 circular was issued,the PMO had written to seven airlines,including Air India,to find a way of implementing the Ministry of Finances instructions. An RTI reply shows that the PMO requested airlines to open a corporate account of PMO for domestic and foreign travels which could be quoted by officers of this office while booking tickets.
However,airlines categorically said such measures were difficult to enforce. Air India,for instance,informed the PMO,We are not in a position to club mileage points of different members or open corporate mileage accounts.
The most detailed response has been received from divisions of the Ministry of Defence. A calculation shows that the headquarters of the integrated defence staff and the finance division amassed 4,19,290 frequent flier points between 2008 and January 2010 from travel of 26 senior officers.
However,the MoD admitted,On liaison with Air India it has emerged that mileage points can only be awarded to the individual undertaking the journey. There is no government account in which these mileage points can be credited.
A bureaucrat of joint secretary rank posted with the PMO recently compiled all his mileage points earned over a period of three-and-a-half years and is in the process of dispatching it to the DoE for them to devise a method to credit or utilise them.
On behalf of the DoE,the spokesperson for the Finance Ministry,D S Malik,said the circular was issued in the nature of policy guidelines/instructions and their implementation rests with the respective departments/ministries.