Last act before leaving – CAG sends out report on MNREGA

Today was a big day for the UPA Government. A single person has been a source of huge problems for the Congress led Government over the past couple of years. It typically has been one person who can cause problems – for example, Seshan caused huge problems to the Government of that time when he utilized the powers of the Election Commission and ran into huge battles with the Government. And from time to time, Supreme Court Chief Justices have caused huge problems to the Government, and there is nobody to appeal to in those cases. Surprisingly, an army chief also caused some problems for the Government. You would have expected the chief of a powerful investigative body such as the CBI to have caused problems to the Government, but the chiefs have been unusually pliant, and hence the CBI never was a problem for the Government. But, if there was a mention of somebody who caused the most problem to the Government, it would not even be any BJP leader or Mulayam Singh, but it would be the current head of the CAG, Vinod Rai. He was an official in the Government when he was made the CAG, and nobody would have believed that he would turn out like this.
The CAG challenged the notion of the Government auditor being a silent, non-controversial behind the lines operator, when he blasted the Government with a report in the 2G scandal. Till that time, the opposition parties were criticizing the government for wrong-doing in the case of allocation of spectrum in the fresh allocation starting from 2007, but it was the huge amount of money mentioned in the CAG report that blasted everyone. Even though the CAG report actually presented multiple loss figures based on different methods, everybody picked up on the highest figure, which was indeed a very large sum. Rs. 1.86 lakh crores was the amount that was lost as per the highest figures of the CAG report. From that time, the Government knew it was in trouble, and used all of its ministers to criticize the CAG, criticize the method of calculation, criticize the controversial nature of the report, and everything else. However, since the Supreme Court was also sitting on the CBI’s head, and because most people would rather believe a honest Government auditor rather than a apparently corrupt Government, any such discussion by the Government most often fell on deaf ears. This single report was probably the single action that harmed the reputation of the Prime Minister and the Government.
Over a period of time, the Government learned to fear the reports of the CAG. There were reports on the Delhi Airport, there was the battle to get records of the Reliance investments in the gas sites it had in the Bay of Bengal, there were reports on the Commonwealth scam, and numerous others. They were all pointing out major problems in the way that Government ran its policies, lack of transparency, apparent loss to the Government, and so on. The Government would rebut many of these reports, not by accounting work, but by accusing the CAG of being political, interfering with Government policy, not understanding how a department works, and so on. Of course, when you don’t rebut a report in the same manner as the way that the reports is structured, then the CAG does not even have to defend itself. There are plenty of others who are willing to fight on behalf of the CAG. The report on coal allocation policy was also very critical of Government policy, which an apparent CBI investigation is also pointing out.
Today was when the CAG came out with its report on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and as expected, the CAG did not pull its punches. Two of the most major problems pointed out with the scheme were the lack of accountability in terms of how the money is being spent (and also to ensure that money is not getting siphoned off at various levels) and whether the assets that are being built are actually of any money (or whether they are just as a means of spending the money). These were pointed out by the CAG with some figures, and those are not small figures (you can read the full CAG report at many places); the biggest problem is that these have been pointed out at different points of time, and by many experts, and yet the Government does not seem inclined to solve some of these matters.
The current CAG is retiring in May, and one can be sure that the Government will be much more careful about appointing a new CAG. The new person would only be appointed after a litmus test to ensure loyalty to the Government, and there have been suggestions on behalf of the Government that they are looking to make the CAG a multi-member CAG, which ensures that one person will not be able to rock the boat anymore.

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