Express investigation part – 3: For exposure to startups in US, Chandigarh admin paid for flights taken and missed

Fourteen days after Arun Kumar Gupta, then Principal Secretary, Home, Chandigarh, returned from the US after a conference, the then Secretary, Personnel, BL Sharma sanctioned a payment of Rs 3.81 lakh to him on October 16, 2019. This sum covered not just tickets to and from San Francisco but also the air fare from San Francisco to Seattle and back, a trip he did not make.

Two months after this payment, the administration okayed another payment to Gupta, citing “rescheduling of dates”. Gupta was said to have returned on October 2, three days before the scheduled arrival as per documents.

Ajay Kumar Singla, the new Secretary, Personnel, sanctioned a sum of Rs 79,841 to him on account of his “rescheduled” travel from San Francisco to Chandigarh and daily allowance.

Strangely, although it was no secret that the officer had to cut short his journey to the US conference and return to India on October 2, the rescheduled trip was not factored into the first payment.

Vinod Kavle, then Secretary, Information Technology, who had also gone for the same conference (September 30 to October 5, 2019), was sanctioned a sum of Rs 2,37,999 for his trip from September 27 to October 7, 2019. Apart from tickets, this sum sanctioned on October 25 also covered his luggage charges of Rs 7095, visa fee of Rs 11,520, and daily allowance both in India and the US.

These details emerged following a request filed under the Right to Information Act about foreign tours undertaken by UT officials by the father of this correspondent.

In an order prior to the visit, the administrator gave Arun Kumar Gupta and Vinod P Kavle, permission to participate in the “international exposure visit to USA startup ecosystem from September 30 to October 5, 2019 (excluding journey time).” The conference was to be held in both San Francisco and Seattle.

According to the documents shared by the administration, Gupta was sanctioned a sum of Rs 3,81,009 on September 16 for air fare and insurance charges from Chandigarh to USA – Rs 3,09,271 return fare from Delhi to San Francisco; Rs 58,182 for San Francisco to Seattle and back; and Rs 12,209 for return flight from Delhi to Chandigarh—from September 28 to October 6, 2019.

This sanction was given when Gupta had already returned to Chandigarh and it was known that he did not attend the Seattle meeting.

Two months later, on December 5, 2019, Gupta was sanctioned another payment of Rs 79,841 “on account of additional expenditure incurred on air fare tickets from San Francisco to Delhi and Delhi to Chandigarh as well as DA as admissible for his official visit from September 28 to October 3, 2019.” This included Rs 48,080 (SF to Delhi) on October 2, 2019 and Rs 4539 from Delhi to Chandigarh on October 3.

When contacted, Gupta said, “I could not attend the Seattle meeting as I had fever and had to return on October 2 itself.”

He said that the trip was organized by the Government of India. When asked why sanction was given for all his tickets, that too when he had cut short his trip, he said, “Tickets to pehle se hi saari book hui thi….for everyone… but emergency aane ke kaaran I had to cut short my trip.”

When asked if he had returned/refunded the unused tickets, Gupta said everything was done by the government.

Kavle, when contacted, said, “I went as per the rules. I went to Delhi on the night of September 27kyunki aapki yahan se koi flight to hai nahi, traveled from Delhi to SF on the night of April 28. I have the boarding passes with me, all the tickets also. I am not that type of officer.” Kavle was requested for copies of boarding passes and tickets but he did not revert.

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