Monday, October 01, 2012
Don’t undermine the Auditor
(Courtesy: The Hindu, ‘Opinion’, September 4, 2012)
The Prime Minister is out of line in asserting that the Public Accounts Committee “will” challenge the findings of the CAG. It is akin to issuing a whip to the committee.
When the draft provisions relating to the Comptroller and Auditor General were under consideration in the Constituent Assembly, Dr. B.R Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, said: “I am of the opinion that this dignitary or officer is probably the most important officer in the Constitution of India. He is the one man who is going to see that the expenses voted by Parliament are not exceeded, or varied from what has been laid down by Parliament in the Appropriation Act. If this functionary is to carry out the duties — and his duties, I submit, are far more important than the duties even of the Judiciary — he should have been certainly as independent as the Judiciary. But, comparing the Articles about the Supreme Court and those relating to the Auditor General, I cannot help saying that we have not given him the same independence which we have given to the Judiciary, although I personally feel that he ought to have far greater independence than the Judiciary itself” (May 30, 1949)
‘Without fear or favour’
While laying the foundation stone of the CAG office building in New Delhi in July 1954, President Rajendra Prasad said: “… At the present moment when the Government is incurring a huge expenditure on so many welfare projects … it is essential that every rupee that we spend is properly accounted for. This important task — I am afraid, a task not always very pleasant — devolves upon the Comptroller and Auditor General and his office. In accordance with the powers vested in him, he has to carry on these functions without fear or favour in the larger interests of the nation.”
At a similar function in Madras in June 1954, Vice President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan stated: “Ours is a poor country, its resources are limited and we cannot afford to risk any kind of waste and the Audit and Accounts Department will have to look upon their functions as the functions of the greatest public utility ...” In conclusion, he asserted: “If I have one advice to give and if I am presumptuous enough to give any advice to the officers of the audit and accounts, it is this: ‘Do not shrink from the truth for fear of offending men in high places’.”
At the time President Prasad spoke about “huge expenditure of government projects,” the combined budgetary transactions of the Centre and the States were Rs.1,354 crore (1954-55). In 2010-2011, the total had zoomed to Rs.22, 92,510 crore according to the Economic Survey 2011-12.
When there was some criticism of the CAG’s reports in December 1952, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru chastised the Member: “He [the CAG] is not responsible to the Government and it is open for him to criticise the Government in reports. For him to be criticised on the floor of the House would tend to undermine the special position that has been granted to him to discharge his duties without fear or favour.”
Against the audit’s findings on deficiencies in defence preparedness on May 31, 1962, during the debate on Demands for Grants, Defence Minister Krishna Menon flared up: “Criticism offered by Audit to Parliament must be limited to financial question based on accounts. It is not the function of Auditor General to range over the field of administration and offer suggestion as to how the Government could be better conducted.” Immediately there were points of order and Speaker Sardar Hukam Singh pacified both sides. On June 18, the matter was again raised and the Speaker accepted the suggestion of the Finance Minister to seek elucidation from the Public Accounts Committee on the role of the CAG on the points raised.
In the 1950s and 1960s, with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as its leader, the Congress had more than 70 per cent strength in both Houses, which naturally gave the ruling party a sufficient majority in all Committees, including the PAC. In 1962, the PAC chairman was Mahavir Tyagi, a senior Congress leader, bold and free in his views.
The PAC made an extensive study of the objectives and practices in the United Kingdom, and of explanations and documents offered by CAG A.K. Roy. Then, Tyagi submitted the PAC report with the following recommendations: “The Committee is definitely of the view that it is the function of the CAG to satisfy himself not only that every expenditure has been incurred as per prescribed rules, regulations and laws, but also that it has been incurred with ‘faithfulness, wisdom and economy.’ If, in the course of the audit, the CAG becomes aware of facts which appear to him to indicate an improper expenditure or waste of money, it is his duty to call the attention of Parliament to them through his Audit Reports. At the present time when there is heavy taxation and heavy expenditure, the Committee hopes that the CAG will pay even greater attention than in the past to this aspect of his duties and that the government will give him every facility to perform them.”
Four months later, in October 1962, the Chinese aggression on India proved the validity of the points raised in the Audit Report. The debacle forced Krishna Menon to resign.
Now scam after scam comes to be reported about the bewildering loss of public funds, counted in lakhs of crores. But at every revelation, the Manmohan Singh government, noted for its zero administrative capacity, maintains there is zero loss.
Can we expect the President and the Vice-President to follow in the footsteps of Rajendra Prasad and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and ask the CAG to carry on his functions “without fear or favour” or advise the Audit officers “not to shrink from truth for fear of offending men in high places?”
On August 27, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh submitted to both Houses his report refuting many points raised in the CAG Report on the allocation of coal blocks. I am not going to analyse the contents of the report.
I am horrified at the remarks he made to the media before going to the Lok Sabha with his report. His message to the media in Parliament House on August 27 was released by the Prime Minister’s Office. The fourth paragraph of the news release said: “I wish to assure the country that we have a very strong and credible case, the observations of the CAG are disputable, and they will be challenged when the matter comes before the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.”
I am not concerned here with the Prime Minster’s affirmations about the strong case of the government or the disputable observations of the CAG. What I am strongly against is this sentence in his statement: “…they [observations of the CAG] will be challenged when the matter comes before the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.”
How can the Prime Minister say now that the observations of the CAG ‘will’ be challenged when the matter comes before the PAC?
The PAC is set up by Parliament and its proceedings cannot be passed on to others until its report is submitted to Parliament. The Prime minister, however high his position, should not take the PAC for granted. He cannot issue a whip now that the observations of the CAG are to be challenged. He may as well abolish the entire Committee system.
When Hitler came to power in Germany, he proscribed all political parties excepting the Nazi Party; then he amended the law to end all forms of accountability through audit of finance. It is to be hoped that Manmohan Singh and his ministers are not trying to adopt this method to avoid struggling with the cumbersome parliamentary system of a functioning democracy.
(Era Sezhiyan is an eminent parliamentarian and author. He was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee from 1971 to 1973.)