Passes for staff cost railways thousands of crores
NAGPUR: Cash-strapped Indian Railways continues to lose a whopping Rs2,100 crore through providing privilege passes to its existing and retired employees.
Railways provide 6 privilege passes to each of its officers and three passes to other staff annually allowing them a free ride along with concessional travel. There are 27 lakh (16 lakh working and 11 lakh retired) personnel enjoying this privilege. At a bare minimum estimate of Rs8,000 revenue loss per pass for air-conditioned travel against each employee and their family, railways may be forgoing Rs2,100 crore, equivalent to the annual revenue of entire Nagpur division of Central Railway.
Top sources said this loss was for just one pass. If employees use all the privilege passes they are entitled to, the amount will run into thousands of crores. "At conservative estimate, railways may be losing Rs15,000 crores towards this freebie. The passes need to be done away with to mop up revenue," said a senior railway audit department official requesting anonymity.
When city-based consumer rights activist Avinash Prabhune sent RTI queries to various railway divisions asking about loss of revenue caused by privilege passes they refused to divulge the information. "The burden of this money is being passed on to the common man. The loss could be even more as passes are mostly misused," he said.
Prabhune, who is pursuing the RTI applications since August 2012, has been given vague replies. "I'm in possession of 3kg papers in the form of replies. All the officials have replied that figures of revenue loss on account of passes is not maintained," he said.
The office of executive director (public grievances) Ashok Chaudhari said, "Railways do issue six and three privilege passes to its employees, but its details are maintained by the respective headquarters." CPIO Rakesh Kumar did not respond to the calls made to him.
Prabhune said it was extremely surprising that this huge revenue loss is neither accounted by the railways nor taxed by the finance ministry, thus contradicting the principles of transparency and accountability.
"I tried to bring this vital aspect for corrective action to the notice of highest authorities in the last two years but it appears that none of them has taken cognisance. I am not against issuing passes but certainly against this unaccounted expenditure," the RTI activist said.
Interestingly, railways claim reimbursement of expenses from Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL) officials (journeys undertaken on duty cheque passes) deputed at DFCCIL. Prabhune said same principle should apply to the railways requiring working out the costing of each privilege pass.
Common tax payer, who shares huge financial burden due to privilege passes, is deprived of accommodation in trains as his legitimate berth is occupied by pass holders. There have been many instances wherein these passes are misused by employees. "Hence, reimbursement must be allowed to each railway employees against actual travel. This will reduce misuse to significant level. Besides, cut in number of passes will shore up revenue," he added.
He suggested that privilege passes must be treated as additional income and taxed accordingly. Railways must be directed to maintain the cost of the privilege passes.
Failing to get a positive reply from even CAG against the incorrect practice, Prabhune filed second appeal before the chief information commissioner (CIC) on January 12, 2015.
Common Travellers vs Privileged Railways Staff
* August 2012: RTI application filed with Railway Board to know revenue loss from privilege passes issued to lakhs of railway employees. Board diverted it to all divisions.
* May 2013: The finance minister P Chidambaram apprised of the issues but no action taken
* Nov 2013: Fresh RTI filed with Railway Board, which says costing of these passes is not worked out by railways
* May 2014: Finance minister Arun Jaitley also told about the issue but does not even reply
* June 2014: CAG Shashikant Sharma apprised of incorrect practice but there is no reply
* Sept 2014: Another RTI with finance ministry filed but no reply received. Even 1st appeal under RTI in November not received. Therefore, 2nd appeal filed with CIC, Delhi, in Jan 2015
* Feb 4, 2015: After 2nd appeal to CIC, CBDT replies that no individual replies are sent on such proposals, indicating common man has no say in such matters