Of accounts and accountability

Recently, there has been sharp focus on the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. The CAG report on the 2G spectrum allocation provided a credible basis both for the CBI investigation and the hearings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament. Similarly, the CAG report on multiple irregularities related to the Commonwealth Games has proved embarrassing for the government. CAG's report on the Adarsh housing scam in Maharashtra adds to the woes of a beleagured government. On the horizon are reports on the working of the civil aviation and petroleum ministries on the purchase of aircrafts and cost overruns on production-sharing contracts.

Questions are being asked as to whether the CAG has overstepped its constitutional powers. Aspersions are also being cast as to whether these reports are setting the agenda of the national dialogue.

We must understand the role and obligations of the CAG under the Constitution of India and in light of the fact that separation of powers is one of the basic features of the Constitution. It can be nobody's case that everything that the CAG says is gospel truth. As the principal auditor, it is his obligation to point out deviations and irregularities as he perceives and it is for the concerned ministry or institution to reply, respond, correct and initiate follow up action wherever appropriate. Sensationalising the CAG's findings not only politicises a constitutional entity but distracts from the objectivity of his findings.

There are however many other issues relating to the working of the CAG. First, the CAG has performed the constitutional mandate given to him. The CAG is the guardian of the public purse for both the Centre and the states. This is the reason why Dr B.R. Ambedkar said that the CAG shall be the most important officer under the Constitution of India. The enormous growth in the size and complexity of government budget also has a bearing on the duties of the CAG.

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