Officials upgrade Paris trip, clear each other’s bills in Chandigarh

THREE SENIOR bureaucrats spent seven days in Paris for a three-day meeting and upgraded their accommodation from a five-star hotel to a luxury property “closer to the Arc de Triomphe” — a month later, two of them issued orders approving the extra expenditure .

This trip by three top officials of the Union Territory administration of Chandigarh, which comes under the Union Home Ministry, took place in 2015 but details have emerged only now following a request filed under the Right To Information (RTI) Act on foreign tours undertaken by the city’s administrators over the past 10 years.

These RTI records, reviewed by The Indian Expressshow that the then UT Advisor Vijay Dev was initially sanctioned over Rs 6.5 lakh, Home Secretary Anurag Agarwal Rs 5.6 lakh and Personnel Secretary Vikram Dev Dutt Rs 5.7 lakh to attend a meeting on Chandigarh designer Le Corbusier’s work on June 15-17, 2015 .

But records show that the three IAS officers later shifted hotels, and spent over Rs 25 lakh during their stay in Paris from June 12-18, 2015 — almost 40% above the amount originally approved.

There’s more.

Records show that almost a month after that trip, the UT administration wing, under Personnel Secretary Vikram Dev Dutt, issued orders stating that the increased expenditure for UT Advisor Vijay Dev had been approved.

And Dev, in turn, issued orders stating that the additional expenditure incurred for Dutt and Agarwal had been cleared.

All the three orders stated that the “Administrator is pleased to accord revised sanction for the payment…on account of actual expenditure”.

Vijay Dev is currently the State Election Commissioner of Delhi and Chandigarh; 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 Paris trip, 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 meeting of Le Corbusier’s architectural work owners to be held from June 15 to June 17 at Villa Savoye (in Poissy)…”

Of this, the records show, Rs 4.39 lakh was to be spent on Dev’s accommodation at Intercontinental Hotel on Avenue Marceau; Rs 1.77 lakh on business class return tickets from Delhi; Rs 40,320 in total on daily allowances; and the rest on other expenses.

According to a senior official in the Chandigarh administration, bureaucrats at the level of Joint Secretary and above are allowed business class return tickets for official trips.

The RTI records, however, show that the three IAS officers shifted to a luxury property, Le Royal Monceau, where the room rent was almost double — for instance, Rs 9.10 lakh was spent on Dev’s stay.

On July 27, 2017, more than a month after their return, an order citing “partial modification” of the Administration’s order dated June 10, 2015, was issued by then Personnel Secretary Dutt. “…the Administrator is pleased to accord revised sanction for the payment of Rs 11,28,971 on account of actual expenditure on the official visit of Vijay Dev,” the new order stated.

On the same day, records show, 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 endorsed by the Special Secretary (Personnel) for Dev.

Vijay Dev did not respond to calls, messages and an email from The Indian Express seeking comment on the trip and the expenditure involved.

Vikram Dev Dutt said: “I have no ready recollection of the details, maybe it was a delegation led by the Advisor with other officers.”

On being reminded about the details of the trip, including the change of hotel, Dutt said: “All the approvals would have been taken by the department concerned from the competent authority, I presume. I don’t remember any files for hotel accommodation, etc., being put up through me… Nothing about accommodation was either routed through me or with my knowledge.”

Anurag Agarwal said: “This meeting was really important to give a push to heritage status for Chandigarh. It was a meeting of UNESCO world heritage sites.”

Asked about the length of stay, Agarwal said: “If you start nitpicking, there can be questions on everything… you (should) look at the intent. We visited some 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 rock museum in Chandigarh, died on June 12, 2015.

Asked about the change of hotel, Agarwal said: “I don’t remember exactly… the then Advisor wanted a location closer to the Arc De Triomphe… It is quite possible that we booked a hotel, and it was changed due to locational issues. ”

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