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Author Vinod Rai on corruption in India and what his critics have to say.

Vinod Rai, the silver-haired bureaucrat who helped bring down a government with his revelations on corruption, has become something of a hero.

His 268-page memoir, rather hyperbolically called Diary of the Nations’ Conscience Keeper, deals with five different scams: The Commonwealth Games, the coal block allocation, the 2G spectrum scam, the mismanagement of Air India and the Kaveri Godavari basin gas disputes.

In Mumbai to promote his memoirs, Rai spoke about the writing of this book to an audience, primarily from the world of business, and took time off for this interview. Excerpts:

Did you always think you would write a book? After all your book has a lot of meticulous data, copies of relevant letters that must have required preparation?

On the contrary, I never thought I would write a book. I thought the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) was a closed chapter. Those years were behind me and let’s move on. But even after I demitted office, what happened is that the innuendos and aspersions being cast on the organisation didn’t die down. Read pages 37, 41 and 47 of the book — I have reproduced these criticisms in quotes. How can you say an organisation has gone rogue (referring to Manish Tewari, former Information and Broadcasting minister’s comments on the CAG). That’s when more than me, my colleagues in the department prevailed on me to write this book.

Your critics say the role of the Auditor General is only to audit and place the audit reports in the Parliament. That the role does not include talking to the media, giving press conferences and doing other publicity.

Yes, we do audit reports; we table them in the Parliament. But does it mean full stop? There is no school of thought that says tabling them and that’s it. What happens if the Parliament does not discuss them? Whether it is rural health mission’s rural employment scheme, pollution of water, why shouldn’t you, as a common person, know what your government is doing? After all, once the reports are tabled in the Parliament, they become public domain. I went and asked the Prime Minister, what objection you have if I bring out a Noddy book (lingo for a simplified book) that these were the audit findings on rural health missions?

You say both in the audit report on the 2G spectrum allocation and in the book that the government incurred a loss of Rs.1.76 lakh crores. Your critics contend that this figure is hyperbolic and is based on questionable assumptions?

The figure is not an interpretive. It is cast iron, written in stone. I stand by it 100 per cent. I stood by it in the PAC and JPC (Public Accounts Committee and Joint Parliamentary Committee). It’s not an assumption. It is simple logic. In 2008, the government gives out spectrum based on a certain policy and gets a certain amount of revenue. In 2010, they changed the policy. The difference in the revenue — that’s the figure.

You’ve been called many things. Which has been the worst?

What I have been called is all in the media space. Calling me a ‘Bhumihar from Ghazipur’ (referring to Jairam Ramesh’s comments) … I am a bhumihar by caste and I do officially belong to Ghazipur though I have never lived there. But how can you pick a caste of a person, and say that the economy is suffering because of him. Jairam Ramesh meant it as pejorative, but it’s stupid if he thinks its pejorative.

The CAG’s office has now become very high profile. Do you think this will actually weaken its effectiveness? Or that future governments will be apprehensive of its power and try and appoint pliable candidates?

Not at all. There is no going back now. The office has been empowered and will continue to ask questions of those in authority.

We’ve suggested that the CAG’s recommendation and selection should be by a three-member collegium like the office of the Election Commissioner. This will happen; public pressure will make it happen.

Are there things you haven’t written about? Can you talk about those?

Yes. There are 100 things I haven’t written about. (Laughs) Why should I tell?

So what next?

Post-retirement, I spent some time on the lecture circuit, travelling mostly abroad. Then this book gripped me and I put pen to paper. What now? I don’t know. Let me decide.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2017 11:53:27 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/the-sunday-interview-with-vinod-rai/article6643206.ece