Government officials who have received excess payments from the exchequer will have to return the money, sooner than later.
The government has cut the red-tape to make officials pay back the excess money as soon as the error is detected and barred departments from granting waiver of recovery without the finance ministry’s approval. Departments can, however, allow officials to repay the money in instalments with approval of the department’s secretary.
The department of personnel (DoPT) has laid down new ground rules for recovery of excess or wrongful payments in the backdrop of a 2012 Supreme Court judgment. This verdict clarified that previous judgments disallowing recovery did not imply that the money could be recovered only if the government, or the officials, established misrepresentation or fraud by the recipients.
In this judgment, the SC had spoken of its concern with excess payment of tax-payers money, which belongs neither to the officers who made the excessive payment nor those who received them.
The court said it was immaterial to the decision for recovery whether such payments were made due to a bonafide error or a malafide intention. In either case, the fact remained, that the money was paid and received without “authority of law” and had to be recovered “barring few exceptions of extreme hardship but not as a matter of right”.
Most instances of excess payments to employees relate to wrong pay fixation, grant of pay scales without due approvals, promotions without following the procedure or payments in excess of entitlements.
In such cases, the memo issued by DoPT deputy secretary Mukesh Chaturvedi called for “immediate corrective action” beginning with a showcause notice to the employee notifying him about the intention to recover the excess payments along with the reasons. “Speaking orders may thereafter be passed after consideration of the representations, if any, made by the employee,” Chaturvedi said.
The memo also requires the department to ascertain the role of officials responsible for the overpayment and the beneficiaries in instances where fraud, misrepresentation, collusion, favouritism, negligence or carelessness was established.
A decision on initiating departmental and criminal action should also be considered in appropriate cases.