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Rs 358 crore in 157 countries: That's what External Affairs Ministry spends on rent

Tuesday, 5 August 2014 - 9:36am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Even after assuring the parliament to reduce rental liabilities by procuring properties for its missions abroad way back in 1988, ministry of external affairs (MEA) continues to swindle a hefty sum of Rs. 358 crore annually to pay rents and lease amounts in 157 countries. To add to the woes further, there is no record of properties in another 23 countries, showing a casual approach and absence of a comprehensive database of estates under the control of the ministry.

In a recent CAG report, a review of expenditure of the MEA on housing and capital outlay also reveals an excess expenditure from 3.49% to 31.15%  and on public works the excess expenditure works out from 2.29% to 14.58% against saving of 5 to 5.36% on some heads.

In Geneva, Switzerland way back in 2009, the ministry shortlisted a property for construction of the Chancery building and also set aside Rs. 21 crore for the purpose. But till date the property could not be obtained. Similarly in Berne a property was identified in 1998. But even after 15 years the ministry has not been able to acquire the property to construct its own mansion for the Chancery.

As diplomatic niceties bank on reciprocities, the Consulate General of India was established in Guangzhou city of China, with the assurance that Beijing will be allowed to open a similar mission in Kolkata. But even after 6 years, MEA was yet to take a decision on the allotment of land to the Chinese. The audit notes that Chinese were ready to provide land to India in 2009 itself in Guangzhou.   In Port of Spain, construction of a cultural centre was approved in 1999. But the construction was yet to commence. In the meanwhile, the delays has resulted in cost escalation by Rs. 21.13 crore and an amount of Rs. 1.05 crore was also paid to a consultant. An expenditure of Rs 33 lakh per annum has been also added from 2012 on account of temporary accommodation for the culture centre.

The audit has pointed out that mismanagement of properties in India and abroad have caused massive avoidable payments of Rs 95.67 crore in 2011-12 alone, including Rs 41.47 crore paid on rents in just one year. It also noted "lack of a systemic approach" in the domestic construction projects causing avoidable rental outgo of Rs 3.98 crore in 2011-12 crore. In its audit of records of five projects, it found a shocking delay of 22 years in case of the construction of the regional passport office (RPO) at Jaipur.

A 4740 sq metre plot was acquired at Jaipur in 1983 for construction of a passport office cum residential complex. The construction began in 2005 after lapse of 22 years. In October 2007, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) informed MEA that the construction is over and better take over the building. Passport office finally took over the building in January 2008.

In Mumbai, the ministry had bought a 2801-sq metre plot on a 80-year lease from Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) for Rs 25.95 crore to shift its existing offices and got the plot possession in March 2006. The ministry had to pay penalty of Rs 4.69 crore for delay in construction since it flouted MMRDA's condition that the lessee complete construction within four years. The construction work had not been completed as of January 2013, the CAG report said. It noted that the delay has not only blocked Rs 25.95 crore and pay penalty, but also resulted in avoidable rent payment of Rs 3.31 crore in 2011-12 only.

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