NEW DELHI:As the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probes the Leave Travel Concession (LTC) scam involving Members of Parliament, the Indian Army too has discovered a similar scam in which nearly 40 of its officers are being investigated for their suspected involvement.
The matter came to light when the Office of the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (PCDA) discovered cases where several military officers allegedly claimed their LTC through forged documents. Subsequently, the Pune-based PCDA, which handles salaries and financial claims of Indian Army officers, sent a strongly worded note to the Army headquarters seeking necessary disciplinary action against those involved.
Official sources say during its analysis of submitted documents and bills, the defence accounts department had found prima facie irregularities in the LTC claims of over 40 officers with an intention to maximise personal benefit by scuttling norms in collusion with travel agents. In fact, in some cases, it is believed that air tickets were purchased at exorbitant rates though fares on that particular day was nowhere near those amounts. Defence accounts officials say it is suspected that some of these tickets may have been bought with cash by travel agents from Air India, after which they may have created forged e-tickets showing inflated fares.
This is a common modus operandi among travel agents. The Army headquarters is also probing whether these officers had actually travelled or merely procured forged tickets.
In response to a query from this paper, the Army headquarters has said an inquiry was being conducted into the matter by the Disciplinary and Vigilance (DV) Directorate of the Army.
“Cases are being dealt with as per existing provisions of the investigation irrespective of ranks of the officers concerned and the PCDA is being intimated about the outcome of the individual cases,” the Army replied.
Official sources said that on the basis of inquiry, the DV Directorate has instructed deduction of salary and fines in case of some officers so that the money could be recovered. “Not only that salary is deducted, in some cases, but also officers involved have been reprimanded for his/her behaviour,” an officer privy to the development said on the condition of anonymity.
Simultaneously, the defence accounts officials are also probing if an organised gang of travel agents is working in the military circles.
“Since we have come across about 40 officers in a random check of claims given between 2012-2014, we are now closely scrutinising each and every leave travel concession or temporary duty claim to detect if there is a bigger scam. Some cases might be recommended for further action by an investigating agency,” a senior officer said.
The officer also said that air tickets for LTC can only be purchased from registered travel agents.
But here, in certain cases, officers bought air tickets from other travel agents. On inquiry, some officers involved claimed that they did not do so ‘deliberately’ but due to ‘ignorance.’
A similar inquiry was conducted on 400 employees of Jabalpur-based Ordnance Factory Board who had travelled with their families to the North-East to avail of LTC in 2008. However, later, it was found that the e-tickets submitted for claims were fake in several cases, though defence accounts officials could not establish whether all the employees had actually travelled or not. In 2008, under a special order of the government to promote tourism in the North-East, even the lowest-ranked government employees and their families could fly to the North-East sector and claim air fare under LTC. The CBI also launched a probe into the OFB Jabalpur fraud.
In 2013, the CBI registered cases against six sitting and former Rajya Sabha members in connection with the LTC scam in which travel reimbursements were allegedly claimed by them using forged bills. The incident came to light after Air India’s vigilance department was alerted about the arrest of a man at Kolkata airport with 600 blank boarding passes of the airline.