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The Hindu

CAG: Six Answers To Clear Doubts & Misperceptions

The relentless campaign to discredit the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and diminish the institution is continuing. One is not surprised; this has happened before, for instance in the Bofors case. However, one is dismayed because the campaign, unwittingly aided by some elements in themedia, seems to be succeeding to some extent. It seems urgently necessary to dispel certain doubts and misperceptions before they gain ground and cause more damage.

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  1. Has the CAG been ‘summoned’ and ‘questioned’ as a witness by parliamentary committees? Summoning and questioning the CAG would be similar to summoning and questioning the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court. It cannot happen, and does not seem to have happened. As far as one knows, the CAG appears to have voluntarily offered to make power-point presentations to the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), and the presentation seems to have been followed by the usual Q&A session. One is not privy to what happened at the JPC meeting. If in fact there was any aggressive or adversarial questioning, one can only deplore that as unfortunate; but there is no basis for any such supposition. In so far as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is concerned, there is no need for it to “summon” the CAG or even request his presence, because the CAG is dutybound to assist the PAC and will in any case be present at its meetings, virtually as a part of the committee.

  2. Can the CAG’s numbers and inferences be questioned? The CAG, like all human institutions, is fallible; it can commit errors, just as the Supreme Court’s judgments can sometimes be wrong. The CAG’s reports can of course be questioned, just as the Supreme Court’s judgments can be criticised; but with the same care, respect and circumspection.

  3. Was it right on the part of the CAG to calculate a ‘presumptive loss’? If, in a given case, the decisions and/or procedures seem prima facie open to question, and there is no evidence of the financial implications having been taken into account, but at the same time it is not possible to calculate those implications precisely, there are two options. The first is to make a mere bland statement that the decision taken or the procedure followed is questionable; the second is to try and make a rough assessment of the financial implications or ‘presumptive loss’ through an indirect method. The first option will give Parliament and the general public no idea of the seriousness of the case; they will not be able to form a judgment on whether they are looking at a major or minor matter. The second option will alert them to the seriousness of the case. If ensuring accountability is the objective, the second seems the right course. It must of course be accompanied by a suitable caveat. That is what has been done in the 2G report.

4. Were there internal differences within the CAG’s organisation? If so, was it right on the CAG’s part to overrule the DG of Audit? The answer to this has to be threefold:

  • In any bureaucracy, the superior level approves or rejects or corrects proposals or drafts emanating from the subordinate levels; there is nothing unusual in this.

  • Under the Constitution, there is only one CAG of India; the constitutional status of the Directors-General, the Accountants-General, and the entire Audit Department derives from the constitutional status of the CAG. The CAG is entirely within his rights in overruling the DG (if that is what has been done), correcting his numbers, and giving him instructions. There is no sense in asking “who is right, the DG or the CAG?” The DG has no separate existence apart from being a part of the CAG’s organisation. The final decision is that of the CAG, and the responsibility for it rests with the CAG.

  • In all cases, an audit objection passes through several stages of examination, checking, review, etc, both internally within the Audit Department and externally in correspondence with the audited organisation. Not only does the ministry or department or other organisation under audit get several opportunities for explanations and corrections, but the proposed audit comment also travels up and down between the field office and the CAG’s headquarters several times, undergoing corrections, revisions, etc. Extraordinary care is taken to ensure the accuracy of facts and the defensibility of the arguments in an Audit Report. The point of this explanation is that the formulation and finalisation of the 2G report seems to have followed exactly the same course as is followed in all other cases.

Question : Did the Chairman of the PAC telephone or write to the CAG’s office inquiring about the 2G report?

If so, was this not a case of pressure on his part? This is an extraordinary charge. Considering the close working relationship between the CAG and the PAC, there is hardly anything strange about telephonic or other communication between the two. If the Chairman of the PAC inquires as to when the audit report on a certain subject is likely to become available, can that be considered an improper inquiry? As for “pressure,” it is grossly improper to make any such allegation, but apart from that, what pressure can the Chairman of the PAC in fact exert on the CAG? Is it being seriously suggested that the Chairman of the PAC wanted a certain kind of report to be written, and that the CAG, an independent constitutional functionary, was ready to produce a report as instructed?

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