Seven years after all its employees donated a day’s salary during the Kargil war to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, some Rs55 lakh in donations is still sitting idle in a bank account of South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL).
An additional Rs50 lakh, collected by SECL even earlier, for earthquake victims in Latur (1993) and Jabalpur (1997) and the Andhra Pradesh cyclone (1996), has neither been fully accounted for until now nor properly audited.
The money collected for Kargil is in a State Bank of India (SBI) account that is run jointly by some members of SECL’s management and representatives of trade unions, who are all part of a joint consultative committee.
SECL, which has 80,000 employees, is one of eight subsidiaries of Coal India Ltd (CIL), and the Rs1.05 crore in question is part of Rs7.5 crore collected by the organization for the PM’s fund.
When contacted by Mint, Coal India chairman Partha S. Bhattacharya confirmed that he recently received a letter from the managing director of SECL seeking to deposit around Rs50 lakh with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which was collected “from employees in the past” and deposited in a bank account. “We plan to soon ask for a date with the PMO in order to deposit the amount,” he said.
Records show that SECL managing director B.K. Sinha had written, only in February, to Bhattacharya, noting that the money collected during the Kargil war was being held in an SECL account “in the absence of clear guidelines from CIL”.
“Since this is a very delicate issue, decision is required to be taken as to how this amount should be utilized, otherwise it may invite adverse comments from the general masses,” Sinha wrote.
In the interview with Mint, Bhattacharya conceded that CIL “did not do strict monitoring of the accounts pertaining to relief works as these pertained to employee contributions in which trade unions had a larger role.”
Bhattacharya also told Mint that he would now be ordering an audit of the money collected for relief works by all Coal India subsidiaries.
In a separate interview, P.N. Das, director, finance, SECL, told Mint that his organization was still in the process of depositing what he dubbed as “excess money”, which SECL had collected for relief work, with the PMO.
“There was a surplus of around Rs50 lakh which we had deposited in a bank account,” he said. “We plan to soon send it across to the Prime Minister’s Office.”
This money was deposited in the bank account, instead of being transferred to the fund, between March 2004 and May 2006 in the form of fixed deposits. It is unclear why SECL kept this amount while it sent other fund amounts to CIL and why it needed the PMO’s permission or directions to deposit the Rs55 lakh.
When asked about the withdrawals from the account and the exact amount that had so far been transferred to the PM’s fund so far, Das declined to comment. It is also unclear what will happen to the interest generated on the Rs55 lakh in the SBI account.
Much of this prolonged delay in depositing the amount into the fund was disclosed as response to a right to information (RTI) application by Muzibur Rehman, who works with a hospital attached to SECL. Rehman couldn’t be reached for comment and it wasn’t clear what prompted him to file the application.
The PMO, in turn, stated it had received around Rs20 crore from Coal India, which includes contributions from all its eight subsidiaries.
“However, this office is not aware of the break-up of the collections and methodology of such collections,” said Kamal Dayani, director with the PMO, in response to Rehman’s RTI application. It is unclear how much Coal India and its subsidiaries collected for the fund.
As for the Rs50 lakh collected from employees towards the Latur earthquake relief efforts, SECL initially said it was Rs50 lakh but, in a subsequent statement sent by the RTI appellate authority as a footnote, the amount collected in 1993 was shown as Rs70 lakh. No explanation was provided as to why there was an increase.
Of this amount, SECL claims to have sent tents and blankets worth Rs13 lakh to Rewa in Madhya Pradesh for flood relief in 2003 and relief material worth Rs8 lakh to those affected by drought in that state’s Vidisha district in 2006. This amount, of around Rs21 lakh, was withdrawn from a consolidated fund originally set up during the 1996 Andhra cyclone and the 1997 Jabalpur earthquake.
This SECL spending was never audited. The union-management joint consultative committee at SECL, which managed the money, didn’t make these particular accounts public nor did it ever inform coalfields employees that money from the original fund was being used for other projects.
The Prime Minister’s Fund was established by Jawaharlal Nehru in January 1948 to assist displaced persons from Pakistan. The fund is now utilized to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes, as well as victims of major accidents and riots. The fund consists entirely of voluntary public contributions and get no budgetary support. The corpus of the fund is invested with banks in fixed deposits and disbursements are made with the approval of the Prime Minister.