Most bureaucrats didn’t submit mandatory report on tours, state has no account of cash spent.
Mumbai: In the last three years, over 50 bureaucrats from the state have gone on foreign tours, but most of them have not submitted any reports on the same, revealed information received by The Asian Age under the Right to Information Act. As per the Maharashtra government’s circular dated November 28, 1977, all of them have to submit a detailed report on what they did on these tours. However, the information collected by The Asian Age from 20 departments under the RTI Act, revealed that majority of them have not done so.
As per the rules, within two years, the bureaucrats must also tell how their foreign tour helped the state. However, there is no mechanism in place to ensure that the bureaucrats comply with these rules, Furthermore, there is no account kept of the money the state spent on those tours. Officials claimed that most of them were sponsored by the foreign institutes or the Centre.
Among the several departments approached by The Asian Age under the RTI, water resources, finance, food and civil supplies, tribal, animal husbandry, urban development and education departments have provided list of its officials went on foreign tours. Of these, only education department has attached a report of the study tour that was undertaken to Singapore in March 2014. Altogether 18 officials went on the tour from the department asking the officials to either spend one fourth of the total expenditure or Rs 10,000 from their pockets. However, it does not elaborate on the overall travelling, accommodation charges and visa fees and flight tickets.
From the dairy development and animal husbandry department five officers went on foreign tours in the said period at Geneva, Stockholm, Tel Aviv and California. Only one official’s expenditure to Germany was shown as Rs 91,744 under the RTI reply. The water resources department sent 14 officials to visit various countries, including United Kingdom, Slovenia in Central Europe, Myanmar, Japan, Israel and Australia in the three years’ time. Some tours were sponsored by organisers while some were partly sponsored by the state and the Centre. However, some of the officials were allowed to spend up to $500 (approximately Rs 34,000) apart from the travelling and accommodation cost.
The officials from the tribal department who went on a tour in 2015 to Canada and in 2016 to Italy, Netherlands and Turkey have confirmed through an RTI reply that they had submitted their reports to the department. However, none of the reports were disclosed even through the RTI Act. Under the finance department, five officials went to New York, California and London for training between 2013 and 2016. The cost of their expenditure varies from Rs 9,032 to Rs 25,393. There is neither a clear explanation on the low expenses by the department nor a report.
The urban development department also sent its two officials for foreign tour to Bangkok in 2015. The entire expenditure was borne by the organisers, the department in its reply claimed. The food and civil supplies department had sent one of its official to USA in 2016 and spent Rs 44,769 on the tour.
When contacted principal secretary of general administration department (GAD) Mukesh Khullar admitted that there was no compilation of the data about the foreign tours with his department. “We will soon use a software from the National Informatics Centre to keep up-to-date information on foreign tours. Individual departments are expected to keep the data of the tours,” Mr Khullar said.
The ad-hoc manner of the foreign tours has been criticised by activists. “When officials, ministers go on foreign tours, it involves public money. As per section 4 of RTI, suo moto disclosure is necessary,” social activist Medha Patkar said.
It is expected that every government department upload its decisions online, but none of the Government Resolutions (GR) regarding foreign tours were uploaded on the government website. The information regarding foreign tours had to be sought under the RTI as they are absent on the government website. An official from Mantralaya on condition of anonymity said the government has made it mandatory for all departments to upload their every decision online. However, many departments are not following the guidelines. “Sometimes, the GRs are uploaded late on the websites defeating the purpose,” the official added.