Eight years after all its employees donated a day’s salary during the Kargil War to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, Rs 55 lakh in donations are sitting idle in a bank account of South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL). Another Rs 50 lakh, collected by SECL even earlier, for earthquake victims in Latur (1993) and Jabalpur (1997) and the Andhra Pradesh cyclone (1996), has not been fully accounted for or properly audited.
The Kargil amount is in a State Bank of India (SBI) account run jointly by some members of SECL’s management and representatives of trade unions, all part of a Joint Consultative Committee.
SECL, with 80,000 employees, is one of the eight subsidiaries of Coal India Ltd (CIL) and the Rs 1.05 crore in question is part of the Rs 7.5 crore collected by the organisation for the Fund.
Coal India Chairman Partha Bhattacharya confirmed that he recently received a letter from the SECL managing director seeking to deposit Rs 50 lakh with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which was collected “from employees in the past” and deposited in a bank account. “We plan to soon ask for a date with the PMO in order to deposit the amount,” he said.
Records show that SECL Managing Director BK Sinhahad had written, only in February, to Bhattacharya noting that the money collected during the Kargil War was being held in an SECL account “in the absence of clear guidelines from CIL.” “Since this is a delicate issue, a decision is required as to how this amount should be utilized, otherwise it may invite adverse comments from the general masses,” Sinha wrote.
Bhattacharya conceded CIL “did not strictly monitor the accounts pertaining to relief works as these pertained to employee contributions in which unions had a larger role.” He also said he would order an audit of the money collected for relief works by all CIL subsidiaries.
SECL Director (finance) PN Dastold Mint that his organisation was in the process of depositing “excess money,” which SECL had collected for relief work, with the PMO. “There was a surplus of Rs 50 lakh, which we deposited in a bank account,” he said. “We plan to send it soon to the PMO.”
This money was deposited in the bank account, instead of being transferred to the Fund, between March 2004 and May 2006 in the form of fixed deposits. It is unclear why SECL kept this amount while it sent other Fund amounts to CIL and why it needed the PMO’s permission or direction to deposit the Rs 55 lakh. When asked about the withdrawals from the account and the exact amount that had so far been transferred to the Fund, Das declined to comment.
It is also unclear what will happen to the interest generated on the Rs 55 lakh in the SBI account. Much of this prolonged delay in depositing the amount into the Prime Minister’s Fund was disclosed as response to a Right to Information (RTI) application by Muzibur Rehman, who works with a hospital attached to SECL. Rehman couldn’t be reached for comment and it wasn’t clear what prompted him to file the application.
The PMO, in turn, stated that it has received around Rs 20 crore from CIL, which includes contributions from all its eight subsidiaries. “However, this office is not aware of the break-up of collections and their methodology,” said Kamal Dayani, director with the PMO, in response to Rehman’s RTI application. It is unclear how much CIL and its subsidiaries collected for the Fund.
As to the Rs 50 lakh collected from employees toward Latur quake relief efforts, SECL initially said it was Rs 50 lakh but, in a subsequent statement sent by the RTI appellate authority as a footnote, the amount collected in 1993 was shown as Rs 70 lakh. No explanation was provided as to why there was an increase.
Of this amount, SECL claims to have sent tents and blankets worth Rs 13 lakh to Rewa in Madhya Pradesh for flood relief in 2003 and relief material worth Rs 8 lakh to those affected by drought in that state’s Vidisha district in 2006. This amount, of around Rs 21 lakh, was withdrawn from a consolidated fund originally set up during the 1996 Andhra cyclone and the 1997 Jabalpur earthquake. This SECL spending was never audited.
The union-management Joint Consultative Committee at SECL, which managed the money, didn’t make these accounts public nor did it ever inform employees that money from the original Fund was being used for other projects.
The Prime Minister’s Fund was established by Jawaharlal Nehru in January 1948 to assist displaced persons from Pakistan. The fund is now utilised to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities, as well as victims of accidents and riots. The fund consists entirely of voluntary public contributions and gets no budgetary support. The corpus is invested with banks in fixed deposits and disbursements are made with the approval of the PM.