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HindustanTimes Wed,16 Apr 2014

Centre’s travel bill triples amid austerity calls

Chetan Chauhan , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 08, 2013
First Published: 00:04 IST(8/9/2013) | Last Updated: 00:06 IST(8/9/2013)
When it comes to itself the government’s austerity measures does not work. The Centre’s travel expenses tripled in the last decade even as it advocated prudently spending of tax payer’s, especially in the last few years amid the economic slowdown.
 
The finance ministry, through different orders recently, had asked central ministries to reduce non-plan expenses by about 10% to bridge the fiscal deficit and send a message that it was also pruning its expenditure like most citizens hit by rising inflation.
 
Logically, the target was not unachievable because the number of central government personnel has been coming down. HT looked at budget documents since 2000-01, scanning segregated data on pay and allowances and travel expenses to find out what the reality was.
 
The total travel bill for nearly 3.2 million government employees in 2000-01 was Rs. 1,100 crore. The bill stood at Rs. 3,519 crore 11 years later even though the number of employees came down to around 3 million.
 
Even if inflation was taken into account the travel expense should have at-most doubled. That did not happen as babus continued with their usual travel plans.  
 
The officials attributed rising costs for the increase in government travel bills. “The cost of a ticket to United States from Delhi has more than doubled. Even domestic air travel costs have gone up,” said a senior government official.
 
The flip side of the rising travel cost was provided by another official, who said, booking a concessional ticket was a rarity in the government. “Most tickets are booked at full cost to earn a complimentary ticket for personal use,” an official, who was not willing to be named, said.
 
Details provided by the government in reply to a Right To Information (RTI) application showed that 1,576 bureaucrats of the rank of director and above traveled more than 50 million km and stayed (a combined) 24,458 days abroad between January 2005 and April 2008. This cost Rs. 542 crore.
 
Central ministers too have left their mark on the bill. The government’s reply to another RTI application shows it spent Rs. 678 crore on travels bills of 40 globetrotting ministers in 2010-11. The amount is about one-fifth of the Centre’s total travel bill for the period.
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