THREE senior officials spent seven days in Paris for a three-day meeting and transformed their accommodation from a five-star hotel into a luxury property ‘closer to the Arc de Triomphe’ – a month later, two of between them issued orders approving the additional expenses.
This trip by three senior officials from the Union Territory Administration of Chandigarh, which falls under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, took place in 2015, but details have only now emerged following ‘a request filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act about overseas visits undertaken by city administrators over the past 10 years.
These RTI records, reviewed by The Indian Expressshow that then UT Councilor Vijay Dev was initially sanctioned for Rs 6.5 lakh, Home Minister Anurag Agarwal Rs 5.6 lakh and Personnel Secretary Vikram Dev Dutt Rs 5 .7 lakh to attend a meeting on the work of Chandigarh designer Le Corbusier from June 15-17, 2015. .
But records show that the three IAS officers later changed hotels and spent over Rs 25 lakh during their stay in Paris from June 12-18, 2015, almost 40% more than the originally approved amount. .
There is more.
Records show that nearly a month after that trip, UT’s administration wing, under personnel secretary Vikram Dev Dutt, issued orders that increased spending for the adviser from UT Vijay Dev had been approved.
And Dev, in turn, issued orders stating that the additional expenses incurred for Dutt and Agarwal had been erased.
The three orders stated that “the Administrator is pleased to grant a revised penalty for payment…due to the actual expense”.
Vijay Dev is currently the Electoral Commissioner of Delhi and Chandigarh State; Vikram Dev Dutt is Chairman and Managing Director of Air India Asset Holding Limited; and Anurag Agarwal is Chief Electoral Officer in Haryana.
Records show that Rs 6,57,775 was sanctioned for Dev on June 10, 2015, a day before the trip to Paris, through an order stating that “the administrator is pleased to approve the official visit of Vijay Dev from June 12 to June 18 to attend the meeting of the architectural clients of Le Corbusier which will be held from June 15 to 17 at the Villa Savoye (in Poissy)…”
Of this amount, according to the records, Rs 4.39 lakh was to be spent on Dev’s accommodation at the Intercontinental Hotel on Avenue Marceau; Rs 1.77 lakh on return business class tickets from Delhi; Rs 40,320 in total on daily allowances; and the rest on other expenses.
According to a senior Chandigarh administration official, bureaucrats at the level of joint secretary and above are entitled to business class return tickets for official travel.
RTI records, however, show that the three IAS agents moved to a luxury property, Le Royal Monceau, where the room rent was almost double – for example, Rs 9.10 lakh was spent on Dev’s stay.
On July 27, 2017, more than a month after their return, an order citing a “partial modification” of the administration’s June 10, 2015 order was issued by Personnel Secretary Dutt. “…the Administrator is pleased to grant a revised sanction for the payment of Rs 11,28,971 due to the actual expenses of Vijay Dev’s official visit,” the new order reads.
On the same day, according to the records, Dev sanctioned a revised expenditure of Rs 6.78 lakh for Dutt and Rs 6.61 lakh for Agarwal – Rs 1 lakh more than the original amount for each. The document was approved by the Special Secretary (Staff) for Development.
Vijay Dev did not respond to calls, messages and emails from The Indian Express seeking comment on the trip and the expenses involved.
Vikram Dev Dutt said: “I have no specific recollection of the details, perhaps it was a delegation led by the adviser with other officers.”
When reminded of the details of the trip, including the change of hotel, Dutt said: ‘All approvals would have been taken by the relevant department with the appropriate authority I presume. I have no recollection of a hotel accommodation file, etc., having gone through me… Nothing concerning accommodation was forwarded through me or to my knowledge.
Anurag Agarwal said, “This meeting was really important in giving a boost to the heritage status of Chandigarh. It was a meeting of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Asked about the length of stay, Agarwal said: “If you start to nitpick there may be questions about everything…you (should) look at the intent. We visited a few properties designed by Le Corbusier. Also, I remember it was a sad day when we boarded the flight. Nek Chand had passed away and we felt really bad. Nek Chand, the founder of the Chandigarh Rock Museum, died on June 12, 2015.
Asked about the hotel change, Agarwal said: “I don’t remember exactly… the adviser at the time wanted a location closer to the Arc de Triomphe… It’s quite possible we booked a hotel and that it has been changed due to localization issues. ”