Taxpayers not only end up paying for the travel expenses of a bureaucrat every time he packs his bags for a foreign jaunt, but also for the official’s spouse under a dubious government rule that has survived all austerity drives for more than a decade.
This rule allows officials to buy full-fare tickets that cost more than twice the discounted ticket.
But it comes with a perk: the official gets a “free” companion ticket. On visits where they don’t have a companion, the full-fare ticket entitles them to a “free” upgrade.
In September 2008, the finance ministry did suspend the two perks. It made taking free companion tickets or using mileage points a violation under service rules.
Disappointed, the bureaucrats led by then civil aviation secretary M Madhavan Nambiar wrote letters and lobbied for restoring the freebies.
In documents received under the RTI, Nambiar recalled how he had been approached by many senior officials expressing their “deep concern” at the withdrawal of the “incidental benefits”.
A luncheon meeting convened by then principal secretary to PM, TKA Nair, in August 2009, however, decided to restore the free companion tickets.
In the paperwork that followed, the finance ministry only referred to the higher level of scrutiny before international travel to conclude it would not be misused and should be restored.