Cash-strapped railways body spent nearly Rs.3 Crore on foreign trips

Mumbai:  The cash-strapped Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) has spent nearly Rs 3 crore on foreign trips by officials since 2003-04. A reply under the Right to Information Act has revealed that the trips by many officials were pointless and put an unnecessary financial burden on the exchequer, an activist claimed.

The reply revealed that 121 officials have been abroad to undertake study tours and inspection of projects, and for evaluation of signaling technology and overhead equipment (OHE) related work.

RTI activist Anil Galgali said, “An audit should be conducted by an independent authority, like the comptroller and auditor-general (CAG) of India, to ascertain the need for such trips.”

MRVC officials went abroad to carry out a technical study for the commercial development of land airspace in Mumbai. But Galgali said, “Indian Railways has a Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA), which is competent to offer suggestions that are unique for Mumbai. Instead of traveling abroad, MRVC officials should have approached RLDA.”

The officials have been to European countries, China, Japan, Malaysia and Australia.

Galgali said, “I suspect many were pleasure trips for some officials. Despite spending so much on the visits, there has been no visible improvement in infrastructure or services.”

He said there are foreign tour guidelines issued by the director (PSU) of the railway board dated May 22, 2009. They state that as far as possible, efforts should be made to make use of modern communication technology like video-conferencing and visits abroad should be undertaken only when absolutely necessary.

He said 12 trips have been made by persons holding charge, as MRVC managing director. The most trips (seven) were undertaken by P C Sehgal, followed by A K Verma (four).

MRVC has defended the expenditure incurred by officials to various destinations. MRVC managing director Rakesh Saksena said, “The cumulative expenditure figure is not excessive. Officials had to undertake the trips to understand advancement in engineering and transportation.” Contracts for many projects, he said, have been bagged by multinational firms having bases abroad.

A senior official said, “Electrical fitting for electrical multiple unit (EMU) rakes was awarded to Siemens. In such case, officials had to travel abroad to negotiate terms and conditions related to finance and technology transfer. Some officials had also to be sent for training, to get familiar with technology that will be used on Indian Railways.”

MRVC has awarded similar contracts to Bombardier Transportation and the officials had to travel to Germany, where the firm is, for negotiations, he explained. “Digital axle counters of Austrian-make are being used on tracks in Mumbai, to prevent signal failure, during the monsoon. We are cannot discuss or finalize a deal sitting in Mumbai, to save a few lakhs on travel,” he said.

MRVC is a joint venture between the Government of Maharashtra and the railways. It was conceived as an entity to implement the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (I & II) to improve rail infrastructure. The project is partially funded by the World Bank, the cost of which is being shared 50:50 by the railways and state government.