In a ‘well-oiled’ scam that led to a loss of crores to the public exchequer, several Punjab ministers and chief parliamentary secretaries claimed highly inflated fuel reimbursements for distances travelled in their official vehicles which are impractical, official records accessed under the Right to Information Act have revealed.
On an average -- judged by their monthly petrol bill sheets -- many cabinet ministers and CPSes travelled over 650 kilometres a day, 30 days a month, without a break. In some cases, their official cars clocked almost 20,000 kilometres a month.
The ministers and CPSes -unlike the rest of the MLAs — were reimbursed the full amount that they claimed, there being no upper limit to how much fuel they can consume, till recently.
For most, the bills ran into over Rs 5,000 a day, the ministers and CPSes tanking up twice every day in case of pilot vehicles and once a day in case of their own cars.
In many cases, on the same day, cars have used up an entire tank of fuel they filled up from a petrol pump and came back for a refill at the same pump. Some ministers have used up over 100 litre of petrol in a day, tanking up and using over 50 litre of petrol twice.
A few exceptions
Information under the RTI reveals that this “impossible” use of official vehicles is rampant among most ministers and chief parliamentary secretaries with only a few exceptions. For the fuel guzzlers, the reimbursement amount ranges from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 1.8 lakh per month, touching Rs 2 lakh at times.
However, in case of a few, the bill was not more than Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 a month. The bill summary sheets, in possession of the Hindustan Times tell an incredible tale.
In June this year, transport minister Ajit Singh Kohar travelled over 20,920 km in 30 days averaging almost 700 km a day. This needed a refill of over 60 litre every day. Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, the then PWD minister, travelled 18,090 km, averaging almost 650 km a day in March this year. Irrigation minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon travelled 19,856 km in December 2013.
Gulzar Singh Ranike, minister of animal husbandry, was reimbursed Rs 1.22 lakh for his travels in 24 days of June. On June 22, his car took 36 litres of petrol in Amritsar and the same day it needed a refill with another 38 litre in Amritsar itself.
Many of the ministers and CPSes, when contacted, claimed ignorance about their daily petrol bill saying they had left the whole thing to their drivers.
The system, going on for years now, worked in cosy “arrangement” with petrol pumps across the state from where bills or receipts were gathered. In fact, for all ministers and CPSes there is the same set of petrol pumps from where petrol is filled.
Tweaking of the kilometre counter in the cars completed the contours of the scam. These bills were then sent to the transport department for reimbursement with details of the travels, kilometres covered and expenditure. The reimbursed amount flowed straight into the bank account of the driver, who is supposed to have spent the money when the petrol was filled.
With no system in place with the transport department to crosscheck the claims made by the minister’s staff, no one seemed to have even questioned the improbable distances travelled.
“We received a complaint from a minister that his driver seems to be indulging in such a thing after which we decided to set a limit of 10,000 km a month for the ministers,” says transport secretary Anurag Aggarwal, adding that some drivers attached to these ministers also had been transferred. But no one has been held responsible for the crores that have been siphoned over the years.
Many ministers prefer a particular petrol pump in Mohali where the price of petrol (in the bills) is Rs 80.5 a litre. In Chandigarh, where the ministers come back to on most days, the petrol rate is Rs 73 per litre (as per the bills).
However, the vehicles were still tanked up in Mohali, paying Rs 7 more per litre. While most of the ministers and several chief parliamentary secretaries turned out to be fuel guzzlers, there were some exceptions.