Special Correspondent

Ombudsman says government should clarify order

Says issue throws up several questions

Thiruvananthapuram: Ombudsman for Local Self-Government Institutions M.R. Hariharan Nair has disallowed secretaries of local bodies from travelling by car at the expense of the local bodies to places connected by rail till the government clarifies an order issued by it in 2007 which allows spending an amount not exceeding Rs.50,000 per annum by grama panchayats that do not have their own vehicles for travelling for “emergent official purposes.”

It is in its order on a petition filed by P.T. Koshy of Kozhinjampara in Palakkad district against D. Robinson, former secretary of Kozhinjampara panchayat as the first respondent and the present secretary as the second respondent, that the Ombudsman gave such a direction.

The petition arises out of journeys made by Mr. Robinson to Kakkanad in Ernakulam on April 10 and May 7 to defend the panchayat in an OP filed by the same petitioner. He had produced trip sheets and vouchers for Rs.2,450 and Rs.2,300 respectively and collected the money from the panchayat. The petitioner’s contention was that the first journey was made in a private vehicle and that the trip sheet relating to it was a forged one. He also questioned the distance of 415 km mentioned in the voucher and contended that the actual distance between Kozhinjampara and Kakkanad was only 360 km. Mr. Robinson invoked the government order to justify his trips. He contended that the excess distance was necessitated by a detour which he had to take because of traffic jam.

The Ombudsman noted that the issue threw up several questions. The first was whether attending to a routine case before the Ombudsman as per sitting notified in advance was an “emergent purpose.” The second was whether the facility could be used for making journeys involving hundreds of kilometres to places which were connected by rail. He pointed out that the secretary of a grama panchayat in Kasaragod could be called to respond to a case posted at the headquarters of the Ombudsman in Thiruvananthapuram.

‘Wrong example’

If the example set by Mr. Robinson was followed by all panchayats which had no vehicle of their own, the result would be disastrous. He also felt that while issuing the order in question, the government might not have conceived of a contingency where panchayat secretaries who were non-gazetted officers could enjoy a benefit which even a Class I officer of the State government did not enjoy for making journeys between places connected by rail. He wanted the matter to attract government attention. He directed that a copy of the order be forwarded to the Principal Secretary of the Department of Local Self-Government for consideration.

He ruled that attending cases as per postings given well in advance was not an emergent purpose and therefore the collection of car fare by Mr. Robinson was unauthorised. He asked the present secretary of Kozhinjampara grama panchayat to work out the travelling allowance for which Mr. Robinson was eligible for the two journeys and to ask him in writing to refund the excess to the panchayat within one month. He asked the secretary to resort to revenue recovery measures if he did not refund the amount within the period.

He referred the complaint that the trip sheet was forged to the Director of Vigilance for investigation.

He directed that if the allegation was found to be true, the matter should be proceeded with through a charge sheet laid before the competent court.