CAG findings: answers without answerability

In the past three years since the CAG started exposing government’s underhand dealings in Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum, Antrix-Devas deals and many others, each exposure is dealt by the government with a similar script of denial, denigration and dallying on the issue

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | August 27, 2012



“We are ready for any debate. We can give satisfactory answers to all issues being raised,” said the prime minister of eight years’ standing to the reporters after parliament was adjourned for the day without conducting any business on August 21, the first day of sitting after the damning CAG reports on coal, power and Delhi airport were tabled. The opposition had disrupted proceedings demanding his resignation and the reporters were anxious to get the prime minister’s comment.

That comment aptly and sufficiently describes the political skullduggery on display not only over this clutch of CAG reports but for the past three years since the CAG started exposing government’s underhand dealings in Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum and Antrix-Devas deals and many others. What are essentially the issues of corruption and crony capitalism have turned into a “debate”, a verbal duel with the opposition and the CAG. All the “satisfactory answers” are aimed at them. Answerability to people or fixing responsibility and accountability for the sins of commission and omission be damned.

The prime minister’s (and indeed that of his government and party) script shows a familiar trend. He himself may not have given answers to the reporters that he spoke about, his minions did. V Narayansamy, MoS in PMO, said, “CAG is not following its mandate. The report has not been tested by parliament. The PAC will examine it, then we will see what view emerges”. Sriprakash Jaiswal, the coal minister, said CAG calculations are “faulty” because save for one, rest of the coal blocks were “not operative”. Former law minister, now holding power portfolio, M Veerappa Moily said, “It (CAG reports) is not a final finding. It will go before PAC and parliament.” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said CAG “has the habit of adding zeros and he should resist it”. That was a reference to the CAG’s calculations that by not auctioning the coal blocks, a selected few private companies received a windfall gain of Rs 1.86 lakh crore (and earlier, CAG’s estimate that public exchequer was deprived of Rs 1.76 lakh crore in 2G spectrum allocations).

These were aimed at the CAG. It is worth pointing out here that the CAG reports have not found fault with the government’s policies, rather the way “policy has been implemented”, as a CAG official has correctly pointed out, in all its audits. The prime minister’s earlier comment (in connection with 2G scam) that the CAG had transgressed into the government’s domain by commenting on policies is not only invalid, amounts to misrepresentation of facts too. We will soon see why Narayansamy and Moily hold so much in store by the PAC finally examining the CAG reports.

Now the answers to the opposition parties.

Kapil Sibal, telecom and HRD minister, pointed out that auctioning of coal blocks did not start in 2004 but in 1993 and continued through the opposition-ruled regimes – mainly the BJP-led NDA regime. And when the PM wanted auctioning in 2004, Sibal said the opposition-ruled states of Chhattisgarh (BJP), Jharkhand (BJP), Madhya Pradesh (BJP), Odisha (BJD) and West Bengal (earlier one of Left Front) opposed it.

So what happens when the opposition is tired out through repeated adjournments of parliament and the exchange of charges and counter-charges? There will be debates in both the houses which will predictably lead to nowhere. Past debates over CWG and 2G are clear indications of that.

In the meanwhile, the CAG reports will be referred to the public accounts committee (PAC), as is the normal procedures. Again, nothing much will come out of it. Take the CAG report on 2G spectrum allocations. The PAC headed by BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi could not finalise its report. Since Joshi insisted on naming the prime minister among those found guilty, the ruling party members protested, refused to endorse his draft and then held a separate meeting to “reject” it. Joshi stuck to his stand and sent his draft to the speaker of Lok Sabha in early 2011. The speaker returned the draft because it had not been adopted by the committee and so, couldn’t constitute its report. Joshi, in his next term as PAC chairman, tried throughout the latter part of 2011 to get his draft adopted by the reconstituted PAC. Again there was resistance. Finally, in April 2012, Joshi sent the same draft to the speaker with whom it is pending now.

A joint parliamentary committee (JPC) was also constituted in February 2011 because the opposition was not satisfied with just the PAC examining the CAG report. The matter is still being heard with no sign of coming to a conclusion any time soon.

The PAC also took up CAG’s report on CWG. It is still being debated there. The CAG had first exposed the scam in organising the Commonwealth Games way back in 2009.

So much for parliament to hold the government accountable. Is it then difficult to foresee the fate of latest CAG reports in parliament and understand why Narayansamy and Moily have so much faith in parliamentary procedures?

It isn’t as if only the prime minister, his ministers or party are to be blamed for this deplorable situation. The opposition parties are equally to be blamed. In the slugfest, the government has successfully cornered the opposition by pointing their role in perpetuating the very same corruption and crony capitalism.

When the JPC was constituted to go into the 2G spectrum allocations, its terms of reference included examining the telecom policies being pursued since 1998 when the BJP-led NDA was in government. A similar term can now be included when coal block allocations to private players are taken up, as Sibal and others have already hinted at. Additionally, the role of opposition-ruled states in opposing auctioning can also be included in the agenda. How effective will the opposition be then to put the government on the mat?

Will we then see anyone accountability being fixed?

Everything depends on the court of law. After all, it was the court of law that hauled up the government and its agencies leading to the arrest and prosecution of the accused in the case of 2G and CWG. High-profile politicians, A Raja, the then telecom minister, and Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the CWG organising committee, are now out on bail but the judicial process continues.

CAG’s latest findings
1. Coal block allotment: Windfall gain of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to private companies through allocation of 57 captive coal blocks without auctioning between 2004 and 2009. The PMO had decided in favour of auctioning in 2004 but various ministries prevaricated to keep it in abeyance and an opaque procedure was followed to arbitrarily allot coal blocks.  

2. Favour to Reliance Power: Reliance Power gained by Rs 29,000 crore by diverting coal from its Chhatrasal block meant for its Sasan power project in Madhya Pradesh to its power plant in Chitrangi.

Chitrangi plant would be supplying power at a tariff of Rs 2.45-3.70 per unit, compared to Sasan’s Rs 1.96 per unit, though it would get the coal at the same price as Sasan.

3. Delhi airport:  A private entity, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), got 4,799 acre of land for the new international airport in Delhi at an annual lease of Rs 100, out of which it was allowed commercial use of 5 percent land (240 acre). Windfall gain from this commercial use over 60 years is Rs 1.64 lakh crore.

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