Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan shares several similarities with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One of them is a passion for travelling.
While Modi is known to be a globetrotter, who has visited practically every major country, Khan prefers to travel within the country, mainly to New Delhi and his home state, Uttar Pradesh. Mumbai and Bengaluru, too, often figure in the Governor’s itinerary.
According to documents with Kerala’s General Administration Department, foreign countries were never Khan’s destinations.
Despite rules mandating the Governor to be available at their assigned state’s capital for at least 25 days a month, Khan seldom sticks to the norms.
He, however, meets journalists mostly in airports, launching broadsides at the ruling LDF, especially over the issues concerning the higher education sector.
Why should the Governor spend too many days outside the state?
The Governor has an answer, which he shared at a public meeting held in Panaji in the presence of his Goan counterpart, PS Sreedharan Pillai.
“I am getting numerous invitations from other parts of the country to attend seminars and other programmes. As they are integral to my assignment as a Governor who holds a constitutional position, I have to attend them,” Khan reportedly said.
“They all are important meetings. In addition, there are official meetings in Delhi and other metropolises,” he added.
Pillai, who hails from Kerala, backed Khan, saying public representatives and important people must travel.
“There were some newspaper reports that Khan spent ₹20 lakh on travel in eight months. In my case, the travel expense for that same period was ₹48 lakh. There is nothing wrong or illegal about it,” Pillai said.
Will financial crisis ground Khan?
Khan’s travel plans, however, are likely to be hit in the coming days, mostly because of the severe financial crisis Kerala has been facing.
According to rules, the states concerned meet the expenses of the Governor. In Khan’s case, he had already spent the ₹11,88,000 earmarked in the state budget for his travels. He has now written a letter to the government asking for an additional ₹75 lakh to clear the arrears to various travel agents and to meet future requirements.
The government, which is always on the receiving end of the Governor’s rant, has been sitting on the letter for several months, citing its poor financial position.
The wait may continue till February when the assembly would pass the budget for the next financial year.
Khan would land in trouble if the state government decided against increasing the budgetary allocation for his travel expenses from the existing ₹11,88,000.
With pending arrears accumulating, travel agents would find it difficult to issue new flight tickets.
But Khan is apparently unperturbed.
He travels outside Kerala or to Kochi and Kozhikode. He reaches the Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram once in a while, critics point out.
Going by Khan’s travel details available with the General Administration Department, he stayed away from Kerala for 223 days in the past two years till 30 November.
In November alone, he was in Kerala for hardly 10 days. In March, he spent just 19 days in Kerala. In June and August, he stayed 17 days each in the state.
From January to November end, he spent 143 days outside Kerala, mainly for personal reasons. Interestingly, Khan’s travel expenses came to ₹5.34 lakh.
In 2022, he withdrew ₹11.88 lakh from the treasury and asked for more. Government sources said the expenses of senior officials and personal staff who accompanied the Governor have not been accounted for and hence the Governor has demanded an additional amount to clear the arrears and for future journeys.
As per informal estimates, the travel expenses of staff and senior officials of Khan would cross ₹1 crore, and there would be a possibility of seeking more funds after the next budget.
Government sources said the Governor spent 87 days in Delhi between January and June, reportedly as part of his attempt to project himself as a potential presidential candidate.
The sources also disclosed that some areas of his travel plan lacked proper coordination. For instance, he reached Mumbai on May 12 but returned to Thiruvananthapuram Raj Bhavan on May 14.
On May 16, he went to Bengaluru and then proceeded to Ahmedabad the same day. He reached Delhi on May 20 and returned to Kerala the next day.
Conventionally, the expenses of Governors and Raj Bhavans are not audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
According to Raj Bhavan sources, the Rashtrapati Bhavan had asked for details of the Governor’s excessive travels in 2021 after he had stayed 82 days outside Kerala.
The Governor reportedly submitted all the required documents to Rashtrapathi Bhavan. The General Administration Department confirmed that Khan had received a total of ₹46.55 lakh for meeting the travelling expenses in the past four years.
Despite spending ₹46.55 lakh, Khan’s request for additional funds is pending before the government. His travel details within the state are not immediately available.