Mumbai: The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) has spent Rs 4.29 crore on air travel from April, 2001 to March, 2014, with most expenses incurred for study tours, an RTI query revealed.
MMRDA is executing developmental projects worth thousands of crores in the MMR region comprising Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Palghar and Raigad districts. In the name of project execution, MMRDA has spent nearly Rs 4.29 crore on air travels with a major chunk of it comprising travel for 'study tours' by ministers and senior officials like chief secretary, urban development secretary, and even PA's of Ministers.
The information came to light following an RTI filed by activist Anil Galgali on June 23, 2014 with MMRDA, seeking information on expenses incurred by it on domestic and international air travel, which was responded on February 11, 2015.
Desk Officer V G Shinde provided the information prepared by the accounts department, which detailed that since April 1, 2001 to March 31, 2014, MMRDA has spent Rs 1,42,38,431 on domestic air travel for 626 occasions like meetings, study tours or other reasons.
MMRDA has also spent Rs 2,86,35,303 on 39 international trips for the same reasons. These foreign jaunts comprised MMRDA officials, chief minister, state ministers, chief secretary, Urban development Secretary, Commissioner BMC GM BEST, and PA of Ministers.
The highest spending on air tickets for a single trip was Rs 49,18,547, which was done during a study tour to Comprehensive Transport Study Programme (CTS) from November 13, 2005 to November 26, 2005 for 14 days to Malaysia, China, Canada, USA, Japan, Shanghai, Tokyo and Toronto.
Ministers of State Rajesh Tope, Sunil Deshmukh, Rajendra Shingne, UD Secretary Ramanand Tiwari and Sanjay Ubale, BEST general manager Swadheen Kshatriya, Deputy Secretary Sudhakar Nagnure, Dr T Chandrashekhar, PRK Murthy, and PA to UD MoS C S Thorat, were the part of the junket.
Following CTS study tour, another trip to Switzerland, Sweden, France and Germany was undertaken to study Urban Planning, Traffic and Transportation and Urban development by MoS Rajesh Tope, Mumbai Mayor Shubha Raul, secretary to CM CS Sangitrao, deputy Secretary Suresh Kakani, Shankar Deshpande and corporators Ashish Shelar and Rajesh Singh.
The cost of the air tickets was Rs 49,07,687. Similarly, former chief minister Ashok Chavan along with chief secretary J P Dange, PA Nitin Kareer and principal secretary UD T C Benjamin, took a 10-day trip to USA, Malaysia and Singapore from June 12 to June 21, 2010, with air tickets costing Rs 43,34,177 for attending desalination plant, monorail plan inspection.
Galgali alleged that those ministers and officers who were even connected with MMRDA along with their PA's too have enjoyed this largess. The activist has written a letter addressed to Chief Minister Devendra Fadanavis and MMRDA Commissioner UPS Madan and demanded an inquiry in the foreign trips undertaken during the 2001-2014 period.
He said in the era of IT, facilities like video conferencing technology are being ignored by MMRDA, which is widely utilised by corporates to save valuable time and money.
"Why is such options not utilised by MMRDA for domestic and international meetings?," he asked. Galgali also demanded from the government that in near future, domestic and international air travel be restricted and other options be utilised to save public money and time.