‘Mr C & AG, where is the Rs 1.76 lakh crore?’
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Ever since the grand auction of 2G Spectrum brought in less than Rs 9,407 crore, instead of the thousands of crore rupees that the government was dreaming of, I have heard the question asked a lot. And, especially in Mumbai by stockbrokers and businessmen as they worshipped the Goddess Lakshmi in the hope that she would smile again upon the stock market.
There should have been an answer from Mr Vinod CAG Rai. But, the man whose vanity and reckless arithmetic have made him the most famous Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) ever, did a vanishing trick. Where are you now, Mr CAG? It is time for you to come forward and take responsibility for your role in harming the Indian economy.
When Kapil Sibal said, soon after the hysteria began, that the figures in the CAG report of losses from the sale of 2G airwaves were notional, he was sneered at by media pundits. It was at the height of Shri Hazare's anti-corruption movement and people were prepared to believe any old rubbish. When a handful of more sceptical analysts (including your humble columnist) tried pointing out that the CAG report seemed to be based on an imaginary idea of losses, the response was vicious abuse.
To this day my mailbox fills up daily with people who shriek hysterically about how my bills are paid by big corporate houses. One of the responses to my most recent column went so far as to declare me 'DEAD'. This was for daring to suggest that the crusaders against corruption had gone too far and were harming instead of helping their cause. Not even in the days when I crossed kirpans with Sant Jarnail Singh himself have I got the kind of hate mail I have received for saying that the figures I have read in CAG reports make no sense to me. I am willing to bet, by the way, that when coal blocks are auctioned, in accordance with the policy laid down by CAG, we are likely to discover the same imaginary losses.
As I am no admirer of Mr CAG Rai, I would like to suggest that the government seriously consider impeaching him for misleading the country and in doing so causing serious, irreparable damage to the economy.
What worries me about senior officials who these days crawl routinely out of the woodwork of officialdom to make serious charges against their own government, is that they seem to be ideologically inspired. Like the leftists who lead the anti-corruption movement, they are happy to fling mud at businessmen and big corporations. But, never find anything wrong with the much bigger corruption that is caused by gigantic and very leaky government welfare schemes like the national rural employment guarantee scheme. Or the vaunted integrated child welfare scheme that boasts of being the biggest in the world. We should ask why half of India's children are officially malnourished after nearly forty years of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
To come back, though, to the supposed '2G scam' is it not time to admit that although A Raja may most certainly have helped some of his friends get licences, he did not cause anywhere near the losses that the CAG report charged him with? Is it not time to admit that it is entirely because of market forces coming into play that nearly every Indian today owns a cell phone? For someone who grew up in those times when most of India remained untouched by telecommunications, I consider this a huge achievement.
I remember those times as being particularly bleak because I have seen pregnant women lose their babies just because of not being able to telephone a doctor. And, I have seen small children die of preventable diseases for the same reason. This is why I believe that whatever harm A. Raja did it is balanced out by the enormous benefits that came from a policy that made mobile phones available to the poorest Indians.
In my humble opinion if anyone has done grievous harm to the Indian economy and the people of India, it is Mr Vinod Rai with his weird mathematics and his nonsensical charges. He said recently at the World Economic Forum's India Summit in Gurgaon that he had been appalled by the 'brazenness' with which government decisions had been made. He appears not to have noticed his own brazenness.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh