The present Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), Vinod Rai, is an outspoken person. Last week, while addressing a group of police officers, he said the credibility of the government is at its lowest since independence. The message between the lines is all about CAG’s role and its own credibility—now at a high, despite reports, including in this paper, on how it may have overlooked both math and due process in its hurry to quantify losses on account of the so-called 2G scam. Which is why this paper finds a recent report in The Times of India disturbing—it said top bureaucrats are all for a larger role for CAG in auditing government policies. Trust babus to back their own.
It is, of course, tempting to conclude that unelected institutions, removed as they are from the rough and tumble of electoral politics, are solely focused on the job at hand. The higher judiciary in delivering justice and safeguarding the Constitution from the excesses of the political executive, CAG in highlighting the shortcomings in the implementation of government programmes and the Election Commission in ensuring impartial elections and so on.
At the same time, it is important that elected and unelected institutions respect the boundaries demarcated for them under the constitutional framework. The Supreme Court has far-reaching powers of judicial review. The exercise of this power has, in the eyes of many (especially politicians), upset the balance between the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. But it has, on balance, been a positive development, in favour of citizens and for upholding of constitutional values.
What Rai is trying to do is, however, entirely different. In contrast to the apex court, he has no dealing with citizens at large and the efforts of CAG—though vital—affects citizens only indirectly. The danger in this case is that of one institution indulging in a turf war with the government—especially the political executive. The government of the day, however odious the acts of its ministers may be, has a role to play. And it must not be forgotten that it has been legitimately elected, even if it has lost a substantial amount of legitimacy. CAG simply cannot exceed the role prescribed for it. To even think that CAG can “audit” the policies of the government, let alone have a say in deciding whether they are suitable, is grotesque.
It is time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh woke up and put an end to the chaos. As a former civil servant, he can appreciate the dangers inherent in the civil service acquiring a politicized outlook.
Institutional imbalances in India: who is responsible? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org