LTC: Leave (Un)Travelled Corruption

One of the prime reasons why the anti corruption movement led by Anna Hazare lost steam and was compelled to disperse and finally have a cold conclusion was the lack of positive interference between the participants and the cause. The cause was an all out fight against corruption and its preachers. The preachers were objectified in the form of politicos and the top rung leaders of the nation were grilled and targeted with the slogan ‘mera neta chor hain’. The participants were the common masses, particularly the urban middle class which constitute about one-fourth of the total population of the country, that is, about 400 million.

In spite of mass demonstrations for a short period, the movement lost steam because the participants had lost track of the cause. This is evident from the recent unearthing of the Leave Travel Concession scam that is blatantly operated by some dubious travel agents in collusion with the government employees and even some suspected elected representatives of Parliament who are claiming the benefits.

Leave Travel Concession forms a part of the gross salary earned by any professional working in a company. If an employee travels on a family holiday, the employee can get the travel expenses refunded from the company in which he or she is employed, after producing the necessary bills and documents.

However, what if the employee produces the bills and travel passes and submits as reimbursement claims without actually having traveled to the mentioned destinations? This is what has been precisely happening in the LTC racket which has engulfed corporations like Air India and Shipping Corporation of India.

The first spark was spotted when the Kolkata police detained an agent with 600 Air India blank boarding passes in March. It is important to note here that a boarding pass can be issued only against a paid ticket which comes with all the details like names of the individual. In the same month, the vigilance commission of Air India found that government employees were forging boarding passes with inflated bills and ticket fares. For example, boarding passes to Andaman and Nicobar Islands were booked at a whopping fare of Rs. 1.35 lakh per ticket. Similarly, destinations like parts of north-eastern India attracted ticket fares in the range of Rs. 2.11 lakh per head. These passes or tickets were then submitted by the employee to the Finance department of their respective companies in which they were employed and thus, the reimbursement for a travel whose costs were inflated and faked was claimed.

The whole racket involves many ironies. The first of the many ironies that can be observed is the category of travel under which the reimbursement was claimed. The cost for a trip from New Delhi to Port Blair was presented as Rs. 1.35 lakh per head in the Business class of Air India. Ironically, Air India is devoid of any business class seats to Port Blair. Also, many of the tickets had the same seat number thereby indicating clearly that the travel passes were forged. In trip to the north-eastern part of India from a nearby location like Jabalpur, the tickets were presented to be priced at somewhere around Rs. two lakhs or more which on further investigation was found to be tickets via places like Brazil. This is ironical, considering the fact that the initiatives to promote tourism in the region, the travel costs have actually come down in the periods when these passes were forged, that is, in between 2006 to 2008. Also, the ticket prices on the days when these so called trips were made or booked had completely different fares which were nowhere near to the hugely inflated fares printed on the tickets.

The concern is more pronounced considering the fact that these forgeries have been reported by employees in the top echelons of the hierarchy like high ranked secretaries and above. It cannot be ruled out that there is a huge nexus between these people and the travel agents and the travel carriers running this racket. The loss to the company finances is estimated to be in crores as around 400 families alone has claimed reimbursements for travelling to the north-east, inarguably with the same seat number and on the same days which is next to impossible.

The huge lapses made the Central Vigilance Commission take stock of the situation and this prompted the anti-corruption agency to order a CBI probe on the matter on 16th August, 2013. With the CBI carrying the baton of investigation, employees from the Shipping Corporation of India too came under the scanner and eventually were trapped into the net. Sources in the CBI say that more companies and travel agencies throughout the length and breadth of the country are expected to come under the probe as the racket uncovered is estimated only to be a tip of the huge iceberg underneath.

No wonder the Anna movement failed as the so called soldiers of the movement are stained with the very cancer that they were fighting for. As somebody has said, charity begins at home and change begins from self.