Unable to identify other options to generate resources, the cash-strapped Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) has eaten into the general provident fund (GPF) collected from its employees over the past few years.
The amount, which is to the tune of Rs 1,700 crore, has been spent on power purchases, new projects, meeting day-to-day expenditures and even making dead investments in the form of fixed deposits.
PSEB finance controller Subash Arora justified the move, saying the Board had not violated employees' rights. "All retiring employees are getting their benefits, including GPF, in time. Those entitled to loans on the basis of their GPF amount are also being extended the facility," he said.
Arora said that on the directions of the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission (PSERC), the Board had deposited a sum of Rs 250 crore in various banks as investment. "We have not wasted the GPF. It has gone into Board's projects and investments. The PSEB is itself responsible for maintaining all records and is not answerable to the provident fund office," he said.
The monthly salary bill of over 65,000 PSEB employees works out to be Rs 200 crore, out of which about Rs 30 crore is deducted as GPF.
"The Board finds this amount handy every month to meet other needs," said a PSEB official, admitting that the balance amount under the GPF head was almost nil.
In extreme circumstances, the Board uses the money in the GPF account to service loans and pay the interest thereon. A huge chunk of this amount has, however, gone into making power purchases during the peak season.
Defending the practice, an official of the Finance Department said the PSEB finances were in a mess with the Punjab government owing to the Board a sum of Rs 1,039 crore as subsidy against free power provided to farmers and other categories of consumers.
Earnst and Young, the consultant appointed by the Punjab government, has also made a similar observation in its financial restructuring plan for the power board.
The loan liability of the PSEB is Rs 16,000 crore. It is estimated that its losses will mount to Rs 1,200 crore by the end of the current financial year.
The PSERC has asked the PSEB on many occasions to create a separate account for employees' GPF to avoid any confusion, but the Board is yet to take the suggestion seriously.
PSEB Engineers' Association president H.S. Bedi, who leads the technical workforce of the Board, said the PSEB had no right to touch employees' money.
Source :Hindustan times