Alappuzha: An ‘exposure visit’ to Kashmir taken out by a 28-member delegation from the LDF-governed Alappuzha district panchayat has landed the local body in a spot of bother, with the State Audit Department highlighting a serious breach of protocol.
The delegation, consisting of 20 elected members, seven bureaucrats, and a representative from the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) was on a trip from November 25 to December 1, 2023. The visit was organized as part of KILA's initiative to expose participants to model initiatives under the Panchayati Raj system in other states.
Before the tour, KILA informed all local bodies that it would cover the ticket expenses for delegates in AC second-class coaches, along with a food allowance of Rs 500 per day for seven days. In the case of the delegation opting for air travel, the relevant administrative bodies were instructed to obtain necessary permissions from the state government and bear the additional expenses themselves.
In line with this, the Alappuzha District Panchayat requested permission from the Local Self-Government Secretary to travel by flight. The request also included a suggestion to cover the additional costs from its ‘General Purpose’ Grant. Despite this, the department asked for a detailed proposal outlining the objectives and benefits of the study tour, which was not provided. However, even before the government sanction was obtained, the district panchayat unilaterally decided to spend an additional Rs 6 lakh on flight tickets, crediting the amount to a travel company's account.
The proposal, which was supposed to be submitted for obtaining the trip sanction, was submitted only after the visit.
A review of the documents by the audit department revealed the major lapses on the part of the District Panchayat, leading to the decision to withhold Rs 6.40 lakh spent on the study trip. The key violations included travelling outside Kerala without state government permission, flying without proper authorization, and failing to submit flight ticket copies to verify the actual expenses, among others.
Although a query was raised in this regard, the District Panchayat argued that the trip had been taken out given the state government according to permission for other district panchayats to take out similar trips. It further informed that the Minister concerned and the Department secretary had already consented to grant the requisite permission and the same would be furnished for audit as and when available.