Putting CAG in Fetters

AS is the habit of all politicians, when they get into trouble having spoken something they should not have, they heap all the blame on the media. Mr V Narayanasamy, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, who embarrassed his boss, Dr Manmohan Singh by disclosing a proposal under consideration to turn the Comptroller and

Auditor General (CAG), currently headed by one person, into a multi-member body, has fallen back on the same dirty habit and is claiming that the news agency that interviewed him has "misquoted" him. Media has several times nailed politicians’ denials by presenting tape of interviews. In Mr Narayanasamy’s case too, the lie stands exposed in the transcripts the news agency has of the interview.

According to the transcripts, Mr Narayanasamy was specifically asked about the recommendation made by the former CAG, Mr V K Shunglu that CAG be made a multi-member body. The news agency journalist said to Mr Narayanasamy: "Other than submitting six reports, they have written a letter to the Prime Minister in which he (Shunglu) has talked about changes in CAG that it should be made multi member body instead of being one (member)… The recommendation is somewhere in the PMO." To which Mr Narayanasamy replied: "No, no. It is under active consideration." The reporter then asked him: "Do you mean to say that the government is considering…" Mr Narayanasamy interjected to say: "Actively considering." The reporter asked: "So the CAG would be made a three-member body?" Mr Narayanasamy replied: "When a decision is taken, I will let you know. Both the things (CAG and detaching Chief Technical Examination wing of CVC) are under the consideration of the government. All the reports and separate recommendations that have been given for the statutory modifications of the bodies of the government of India are under the consideration of the government."

It has been a subject of informed speculation that the Manmohan Singh government, mauled by opposition attacks based on CAG findings on the allocation of 2G spectrum pegging a notional loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore, Commonwealth Games 2010, Coalgate and KG Basin oil rig given to Reliance Industries, would be thinking of legal ways to clip the wings of the premier audit body. The incumbent CAG, Mr Vinod Rai had not made life any easier for Dr Manmohan Singh, because he joined issues when the government dismissed the staggering losses of public revenue in 2G spectrum and coal block allocations as "notional" and even gave candid, strident interviews to counter that in the media. Mr Narayanasamy was surely giving vent to the collective anger in PMO against Mr Rai’s audacity when he told the news agency interviewer that the CAG has become "more impatient". "Of late I have found," said Mr Narayanasamy, "the CAG is making remarks which are unwarranted..(and) unnecessary. I think, nowadays he (Rai) has become more impatient."

Mr Narayanasamy is in a miserable situation now. He has, by disclosing a proposal under consideration of PMO, made it difficult for the Prime Minister to come out with the proposal at least in the near future. For the reactions to Mr Narayanasamy’s "inadvertent" disclosure have been pretty strong. It is being widely interpreted as an attempt to interfere into CAG’s independence. It is true that the Shunglu committee had recommended converting the CAG into a multi-member body. The panel had suggested: "A three-member body would obtain greater transparency in its operation. One member should possess professional accounting qualifications, chartered accountant or its equivalent." The central government sets up scores of committees every year for studying subjects and making recommendations. It does not accept all their recommendations. It is not bound under law to accept recommendations of all committees. Then why pick and choose the Shunglu panel and actively consider its recommendations?

The urgency and motivation is obviously provided by the battering the government has received with the devastating reports of CAG. If anything, these reports have proven that CAG did not fear repercussions and dealt with the audit work in a straightforward, professional manner. The objectivity of CAG was obvious from the fact that the reports did not spare any political party or political person.

Making CAG a multi-member body is a clear attempt to weaken his constitutional power and fetter his independence. The move seems to be driven primarily by a spirit of revenge, which Congressmen in power have always been infamous for (remember, Indira Gandhi’s Emergency?) against the present incumbent, Mr Vinod Rai. The idea is to "put him in place", but in the process the government will end up debilitating a constitutional body, leaving it free for the plunderers in power to loot and defraud public exchequer without being nailed inextricably by CAG.