The government is in austerity mode, and how!
Bureaucrats have to pay for their spouse accompanying them on tours by car but when they take the spouse on foreign jaunts, it is the tax-payer who foots their bill.
The public exchequer forks out lakhs of rupees every time a senior civil servant packs his bags to fly to a foreign destination on official work.
Because unlike you or me — who buy discounted air tickets — the bureaucrats get the exchequer to buy full fare tickets that can cost more than twice as much. A business class discounted Air India return ticket to New York in July costs Rs 1.96 lakh while a full fare ticket - that entitles officers to take their spouse along - would be around Rs 2.6-Rs 2.8 lakh.
In contrast, the rules governing use of government cars ban family members from travelling with officers on official tours without special permission. If they do, they have to pay R6 for every kilometre covered by the official car. Incidentally, this charge was fixed in 1994, intended to discourage spouses from tagging along.
The anomaly — that costs the government crores of rupees annually — has survived this year's austerity drive. It isn't that the finance ministry hasn't tried.
The government did ban officials from taking relatives on official visits at public expense in 2008.
But the ban — that hurt powerful bureaucrats — survived less than a year.
Led by the then civil aviation secretary M Madhavan Nambiar, the civil service came up with ingenious reasons to call for lifting the ban. All in public interest!
In a letter released to HT under the right to information law, Nambiar insisted that the withdrawal of the "incidental benefits" to officers did not benefit the government in "any significant way" but led to "discontentment".
Then, he went on to contradict himself, asking the government to lift the restriction in the overall interest of not just the employees but the civil aviation sector which was going through "a rough patch".
No one asked if the incidental benefits did not lead to any significant benefits, how restoring it help the civil aviation sector. Instead, the Prime Minister's Office decided to allow officials to take a "free" companion along on foreign visits.