The CBI has been called in by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to investigate a widespread racket in claims of leave travel concession (LTC) involving central government and public sector employees as well as travel agents.
The CBI, which was asked on August 16 by CVC to carry out a criminal investigation, is likely to question dozens of such employees. Large sums are said to have been siphoned out of the government by producing fake Air India tickets and boarding passes (the only airline that government and PSU employees are allowed to use for LTC).
A sizeable number are of the rank of under secretary and above. Most of them claimed to have travelled with their family to the extremities of the country — the northeast, Kerala and the Andamans. The racket, said sources, has been one of the worst kept secrets although there was no actionable evidence against it.
The Kolkata Police was the first to stumble upon the LTC racket in March this year when it detained a passenger at Kolkota airport with more than 600 blank boarding passes of Air India. He was to board a SpiceJet aircraft to Port Blair. On being interrogated, he claimed that he was to deliver it to someone in the Andamans. The surmise is that this someone in the Andamans was to fill up fictitious details of flights there on the blank boarding passes. An investigation by the police is underway, sources said.
Air India's vigilance division began an investigation after the airline was asked about the fake boarding passes. Initial inquiries by the airline confirmed that it was a fairly widespread practice among government employees to manipulate LTC by submitting forged boarding pass and tickets, and hugely inflating fares.
In March, the Rajya Sabha secretariat asked Air India for verification of seven tickets issued by a travel agency to secretariat employees on the Delhi-Kolkota-Port Blair sector. Air India reported back that the tickets and boarding passes were fabricated. "No such journey has been undertaken by the seven people," Air India said.
The fictitious tickets submitted to the RS secretariat turned out to be a crude job — they included a business class ticket, even though Air India has no business class seats to Port Blair. Some of the boarding passes had the same number, even same seat numbers. And each ticket was for Rs 1.35 lakh, although the fare on that particular day was nowhere near that amount.
Air India also carried out an internal investigation into another complaint, this one from the Ordnance Factory Board. From the Board's Jabalpur plant over 400 employees and their families ostensibly travelled to the northeast to avail LTC between 2006 and 2008. Under a special order of the government to promote tourism in northeast, even the lowest ranked government employees and their families can fly to northeast sector and claim airfare under LTC.
A ticket submitted by a Jabalpur employee was found to have been valued at an incredible Rs 2.11 lakh; it's hardly surprising that it turned out to be a forgery. While the e-tickets were definitely forged, it is still not clear how on many of these tickets people actually travelled.
It is suspected that some of these tickets may have been bought by cash by travel agents from Air India. And then they may have created forged e-tickets, showing higher fares. Whatever may be the case, the CBI is expected to investigate all the 400 families that travelled to northeast from Jabalpur, sources said.
Sources also said the LTC racket appears to be rampant across government departments, public sector units, and public sector banks.
It also appears that many officials submit forged boarding passes and e-tickets of travel between Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram, while they are actually travelling to Colombo or Singapore. In other words, on the basis of their LTC claims, employees are undertaking foreign trips, which this facility doesn't allow.