Who in the Congress Party or in Parliament can claim to have greater wisdom than Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru? Who in the Congress think that they can audit records better than the CAG? Do Parliamentarians have the power to review the CAG Report? Who will decide whether CAG has crossed its jurisdiction? These questions needs to be answered to understand what should be the logical end to the endless irregularities in the current UPA government.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) is a Constitutionally empowered individual equivalent to an Institution. He is neither the CBI nor the Income Tax Department which is being run by the whims and fancy of Ministers and bureaucrats. The CAG came out with a report on the allocation of captive coal blocks in the period 2006-2010. According to this Report the allocation of coal blocks and augmentation of coal production pegs the total loss to the exchequer at Rs 1.86 lakh crore. Soon after the CAG’s Report was tabled in Parliament, the Congress party went on the offensive. The first reaction of the government was shocking. The government said the CAG has overstepped his Constitutional mandate and that it cannot question or dictate policy to the executive. But the Bharatiya Janata Party took a stand that the Prime Minister must resign as he was the Coal Minister during this period. Otherwise they would not allow Parliament to function.
This is not the first time that the government has rejected outright the findings of the CAG. In the notorious 2G Spectrum Scam, the government not just rejected it but some Ministers took upon themselves the role of the CAG. Union Minister Kapil Sibal tried his best to misguide the nation by giving a “Zero Loss Theory”. Even the Prime Minister defended A Raja. Similarly, When the CAG gave its report on the irregularities and financial bungling in the Commonwealth Games, the UPA government gave a similar response. The existence and relevance of some constitutional bodies gets noticed only when their reports create a storm in political circles.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India is empowered to audit the entire financial activity of the government in regard to all financial matters in conformity with the Constitution and the law. He is empowered to demand all records, access computer systems and to download and use electronic data either on-site or off-site. The CAG acts as the watchdog of the Constitution to protect public funds from misuse. But many believe that in a democracy Parliament is supreme, so the CAG must be under the control of Parliament. Though the Constitution is silent on the issue, over the years a practice has developed where as soon as the CAG report is placed in Parliament, it gets referred to the Public Accounts Committee, a body traditionally chaired by a representative from the main Opposition party and consisting of 22 members of both Houses, consisting of all parties, in proportion to their numbers in Parliament. An important function of the Committee is to ascertain that money granted by Parliament has been spent by the Government “within the scope of the demand.” That is, the granted money fits in with the budgetary ambit of the programmes for which intended. The functions of the Committee extend “beyond the formality of expenditure to its wisdom, faithfulness and economy”. The Committee thus examines cases involving losses, nugatory expenditure and financial irregularities. When any case of proved negligence resulting in loss or extravagance is brought to the notice of the Committee, it calls upon the Ministry or Department concerned to explain what action, disciplinary or otherwise, it had taken to prevent a recurrence. There are three distinct steps envisaged – the report of the CAG, the findings of the PAC and the Action Taken Report by the Parliament. But, the question is : can Congress give this operational logic to shy away the responsibility? Is it right for the Ministers to say that the CAG findings are not correct? Can the Prime Minister say that he does not have faith in the CAG? Can the PAC raise questions on the findings of the CAG?
The Congress does not realise that the media and the public are far more educated and aware than they were twenty years ago. Due to the movements launched by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev there is a demand for greater accountability. It is shameful to even imagine that in order to cover up scams and financial irregularities the UPA government is trying to diminish a Constitutional institution as important as the CAG. Such institutions are the pillars of Indian democracy. An attack on Constitutional institutions is a direct assault on our democracy.
No doubt, Parliament is supreme in democracy. But the principal of checks and balances is also central to a democracy. Mr. M. R. Masani, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in 1967-69, stated that the impression he got while working on the committee was one of “collosal waste of public money”. Audit by the CAG is potent enough to enforce accountability of the Government in financial matters. He clearly said that the CAG Report is potent enough to enforce accountability of the government in financial matters. But, in recent times it has become a standard practice to send the CAG Report to the Public Accounts Committee. Salman Khurshid says each institution has its respective responsibilities. Such statements only confirm the fear that even in the face of proven financial irregularity, the government will not act.
UPA Ministers must explain, if we come across a scam in which leaders of both ruling and opposition parties are involved then what will happen? Given the level of integrity of the political class the government will not act on the CAG Report and the PAC will give a clean chit to save their own leader. The logic of the UPA Minister is bizarre. It is against the basic principle of checks and balances of our Constitution. It only means that if the ruling and the main Opposition parties come together then there is no mechanism to stop the plunder. The arguments of the UPA ministers are not valid. Articles 148 to 151 of the Constitution prescribe a unique role for the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in assisting Parliament to enforce the said accountability of the Government departments. According to the Constitution, the CAG gives the Audit Report to President which is placed in Parliament. The Constituent Assembly was very clear that the CAG and the Judiciary are the two institutions which will keep a check on Parliament. In the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar described the CAG as the most important official whose responsibility is much more important than the judiciary. During the 30 May 1949 Constituent Assembly debates, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar described the Comptroller and Auditor General as “probably the most important officer in the Constitution of India” with duties “far more important than the duties even of the judiciary”, one who should have “far greater independence than the judiciary itself.” That is a remarkably strong statement and underscores the unique position of the CAG. It is a Constitutional post, and the holder of that office can only be removed in the same manner and for the same reasons as a Judge of the Supreme Court.
He also said that CAG should have a decisive role in financial matters. This is the only way to establish Swaraj in our country.
In the Constituent Assembly, veteran congress leader Dr.B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya indisputably described CAG as “…..The Comptroller and the Auditor-General must be as supreme and independent as the Judges of the Supreme Court perhaps even more so. He is not merely an Accountant-General, but he represents a judicial authority with a judicial frame of mind, and his acts must be acts of justice between what he considers to be right and what is actually done by the executive. At times he is called upon to criticise the executive and to expose it even to contempt… We shall have placed the Auditor-General and the Comptroller as the supreme arbiter of India’s finances, and then alone our Swaraj will be a proper Swaraj.” The responsibility and finality of the CAG in financial matters was also applauded by Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Radhakrishnan and other prominent Congress leaders. Clearly, in the light of the Constitutional provision and discussions in the Constituent Assembly, it can be concluded that the Congress party and UPA ministers are being evasive and brash in their statement regarding CAG. The present Congress party and its leaders do not have any respect for the ethos that was the backbone of our freedom struggle.
For years Manmohan Singh had been defending A Raja and assuring Parliament and the nation that these was nothing wrong in the 2G spectrum allocation. There was a discussion on this issue in Parliament but everything was brushed under the carpet. Thanks to Subramanian Swami and Prashant Bhushan that this issue reached the court. Along with others A Raja had to go to jail. In the case of the Commonwealth Scam, the government did not react. The CAG gave its report but no one knows what actions were taken against the culprits. It is the court which is acting and keeping the hope of the people alive. There are many other irregularities and financial bungling which has haunted the UPA government but in all cases the government’s response has been dilatory. Every time the CAG gives its report the government gives the usual response that they ae ready to discuss the issue.
There is thus no question of the CAG overstepping his limits. Every time the CAG gives a negative report, the government comes up with some absurd “Zero Loss Theory”. It has become a practice that whenever the ruling party had an overwhelming majority in Parliament, no action is taken on the CAG and PAC reports. The reaction of the UPA is thus habitual. The Congress does not realise that the media and the public are far more educated and aware than they were twenty years ago. Due to the movements launched by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev there is a demand for greater accountability. It is shameful to even imagine that in order to cover up scams and financial
irregularities the UPA government is trying to diminish a Constitutional institution as important as the CAG. These institutions are the pillars of Indian democracy. An attack on Constitutional institutions is a direct assault on our democracy.