Tuesday, October 30, 2012

COVER STORY | Crew Ration: Rs 58 Lakh Swindled

Crew Ration: Rs 58 Lakh Swindled

How low can a department plummet is manifested in one of the massive fraud in which officials of Directorate of Shipping Services gobbled Rupees Fifty Eight Lakhs meant for the ration of crew on two mainland going ships.

By Zubair Ahmed

The Directorate of Shipping Services had entered into agreement with two catering contractors - Fareed Traders and YAR Shipping & Catering Pvt Ltd for running canteens onboard MV Nancowry and MV Swarajdweep. As per the agreement, the contractors were required to supply ration to the crew members onboard the vessels as per the scale prescribed at Rs 200 per head per day and submit bills for every month, duly certified by the masters of the vessels after verification by the Catering Officer onboard and the Accounts Officer to the DSS for payment.
Meanwhile, the crew members peeved with the quality of the food supplied to them by the Contractors had brought it to the notice of the concerned officials time and again. The crew members had mustered and explained the masters of the vessels regarding the sub-standard of provisions and poor quality of the food. The Masters after verifying the complaints inspected the stores and found that provisions in the stores were unfit for human consumption. Log entries were made and the information was conveyed to the Directorate of Shipping Services. The crew members stopped accepting ration from the contractors and implemented self-messing with immediate effect from 1 March 2008 and continued till 04 Sept 2008.
In the meantime, series of meetings between the Unions representing the crewmembers and the officials of DSS were held on this particular issue and finally self-messing was implemented by DSS from 1 March 2009 exactly after one year the crew had requested for it. Meanwhile, the crewmembers had started self-messing and were meting the expenses from their pocket for a period of one year.
Records reveal that crew members of both vessels did not receive any ration from the contractors, and accordingly contractors did not submit bills in respect of crews and submitted bills only in respect of officers for the period of one year.
When the crewmembers approached the Directorate seeking reimbursement of the money spent by them on ration, it was out rightly rejected by the DSS stating that the reimbursement in lieu of the provisions is not admissible.
Aggrieved by the stand of the DSS, the crewmembers represented by National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), approached the Tribunal, which awarded in favour of the crewmembers on 29 Feb 2012. In fact, the Tribunal had asked the parties to reach an amicable solution. DSS represented by its Director, Capt K S Seshasai informed that the department shall reimburse the crew the amount due to them. The crewmembers after a long struggle won the battle. However, the story does not end there.
When NUSI had earlier approached the DSS seeking the documents related with victualling for the specific period, it came to light that the Contractors had submitted the bills without the signature of Catering Officers onboard and certificate from the Master for each month when the crewmembers had been self messing. A total amount of Rs 58.43 Lakhs was paid to the Contractors.
These bills were not certified by the master of the concerned ships and instead they had furnished only the list of crews of each month. It was also observed that the fact of self-messing was not mentioned in the notes either by the Accounts Officer and DSS while passing the claims which tantamount to undue favour to the contractors knowingly.
The modus operandi of the DSS officers was very simple.  The Bills prepared by the Contractors should clearly mention that Catering/Victualling contractor has supplied/catered to the crewmembers and the list of the crewmembers with number of days and should be duly certified by the Master and Catering Officer of the vessel. In this specific case, a list of crewmembers were attached without mentioning any purpose and was only signed by the Master, who was unaware of the purpose of the list. 
The Accounts Section and the Crew Section of the DSS should have verified the facts and found out whether ration/food was catered to the crew before passing the bill. It is very clear that with the connivance of the corrupt officers in the Directorate, the amount was bungled by them.
When the crew approached the Masters to find out the fact, they also informed that they have no record for supply of provisions to the crew during the period when they were on self-messing. But, ignoring all the precautions, the officers went ahead and paid the amount to the contractors.
When the issue was brought to the notice of the Dept by the Unions and other organizations, the Contractors were asked to refund the amount , but nothing has happened yet.
The Asst Secretary Shipping on receipt of written complaint from General Secretary, Andaman and Nicobar Peoples Anti Corruption Forum against C J Antony, the acting Accounts Officer and K S Seshasai, Director had asked to submit a detailed report on the matter. However, no reports were submitted by DSS on this issue.
The Admn is yet to fix responsibility for such excess overpayment on any individual. The records clearly indicate that the Accounts Officer who had verified the bills were fully aware of the facts and with due support from the higher officials of the Dept, had over-stepped with the confidence that the support of Secretary and Director will shield him.
Although the matter is in public domain for almost two years now, any kind of punitive action is not seen anywhere in the Department.

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