PUNE: Scientists at Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) and other autonomous institutions under the ministry of earth sciences (MoES) may have to return lakhs of rupees they had received as a part of their reimbursements annually since 2010. According to a recent order from the MoES based on an audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), scientists have been asked to return the annual “professional update allowance” they were getting till last year. Scientists at IITM termed it a big blow as the amount was being used only to purchase work-related items and for academic memberships, among other things. They said depending on the grade of the scientist, the amounts to be repaid could vary from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh. Also, another amount slated to be recovered is the increments that some scientists got while joining the institute. This could take the total amount to be repaid to around Rs 6 lakh per head, said an IITM scientist. “Starting this month, scientists are expected to return Rs 25,000 each month as a part of the recovery exercise. The MoES order also applies to other autonomous institutes under this ministry. In the case of some scientists, the increments that they received while joining the institute are also being recovered,” a source at the IITM said. A senior MoES official, who did not wish to be named, told TOI, “The rules say that the professional update allowance is allowed only for some institutes like Isro, DRDO and Department of Atomic Energy. A few years ago, our autonomous institutes and ministry decided to give this allowance to scientists with the approval of the local governing council (GC). But the CAG audit found that our ministry was not eligible for this allowance. What may have happened in the past is that based on some office order meant for these three departments, the local autonomous institutions may have taken an approval from the local GC to have this allowance granted to scientists in autonomous institutes under MoES.” IITM director Ravi Shankar Nanjundiah refused to comment on the matter. TOI also made repeated attempts (through SMSes and calls) to contact minister of earth sciences Harsh Vardhan, but he could not be reached. There are five autonomous institutes under the MoES — National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai; Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad; National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Goa; National Centre for Earth Science Studies (NCESS), Kerala; and IITM, Pune. The recovery rule would apply to all the scientists (who got this allowance) of these institutions, the official said. Another senior MoES official, who too did not wish to be named, said: “CAG’s audit objection in this regard was found to be valid, hence the recoveries. There may have been some discrepancy in the procedure earlier, which caused this allowance to be granted to scientists. The order for recovery has been given and the administrations of the institutes will have to follow it.” A source from IITM said, “Scientists were given a professional update allowance to buy things like books for scientific use and pay conference fees. The amount was used for work, not for personal consumption. All scientific employees in the institute were granted this annual allowance, ranging from Rs 10,000-20,000. Most scientists here will now have to pay back at least Rs 1 lakh.” On Friday, top sources from IITM said, “We have received numerous representations regarding the recovery of the professional update allowance. Taking cognizance of this, it has been decided by the competent authority to withhold the recovery process and refer the matter to the ministry for reconsideration. Till such time, all are advised to desist from making any public comment in the matter.” The other amount slated to be recovered is the increments some scientists got while joining the institute. “The increments were given way back, around 2010 and 2012, but the audit is now saying that this was not allowed. If added to the professional update allowance amount to be recovered, this increment amount could add up to a total of Rs 6 lakh to be recovered per scientist. All these amounts were not only earlier approved by the administration at the institution-level but also by the committees at the ministry-level. Now, we are told that the amounts were not valid,” the IITM source said. Another senior scientist at IITM said, “The professional update allowance was discontinued last year. But now the order directs recovery of what has been given in the past. My recovery amount runs up to Rs 1.5 lakh.” The scientist said the surveyor of autonomous institutes was the governing council earlier and it had approved this allowance. “Through the allowance, we were only reimbursed for work-related expenses like books or memberships. How do we give that amount back,” he asked. Sources in IITM said though they had to follow the rules, the institute and the ministry were looking at the issue sympathetically.