"If a watchdog is not allowed to criticise then what kind of parliamentary accountability will you ever get?"
Even as the Opposition storm over coalgate stalled Parliament over the past week, the former Solicitor General of India, Gopal Subramaniam, has defended the Comptroller and Auditor General, which, he said, did not overstep its mandate in its report on allocation of coal blocks between 2004 and 2009.
“It is only a CAG who can fearlessly interrogate the government. That is why the founding fathers of the Constitution have provided that the CAG cannot be removed and he has to be impeached in the same manner as a Supreme Court judge. That is the kind of special security which the Constitution gives to the CAG to ensure the quality of its independence. It is there to ensure accountability on the part of the executive. As Parliament cannot actually review the functioning of the executive government on a day-to-day basis, the founding fathers put in place the CAG with the virtues and objectivity and independence close to that of a Supreme Court judge,” Mr. Subramaniam told The Hindu.
He was reacting to the CAG report on coalgate and accusations by the ruling UPA that the CAG had overstepped its jurisdiction.
The eminent lawyer said he had not read the CAG report but it would be critically analysed by Parliament and its bodies and if they thought the CAG had not done its work properly, they could take it to task.
“Parliament has the right to demand [from] the CAG any explanation pertaining to its conduct. Parliament can summon him and question him. It can ask him and that is why we have the system of Public Accounts Committee in place.”
He said the submission of the CAG report and its subsequent scrutiny were meant to be a very serious process of self-correction.
“The CAG has the mandate to scrutinise transparency in procurement and the way in which things have been done, acting like a watchdog. If a watchdog is not allowed to criticise, then what kind of parliamentary accountability will you ever get? Its reports are based on records and policies of the government placed before it. It is not expected to frame an alternative policy but we must understand that the CAG can certainly test the present policy and the way it is being implemented. That is certainly within its mandate. It can certainly go into the question whether the government of the day has correctly and in an accountable manner carried out a pure process of execution.”
Mr. Subramaniam said this was not the first time the CAG had come up with the idea of performance audit.
“But yes, the present CAG has gone public. He has looked at the concept of performance audit. I think it is a very very subjective opinion and, of course, there is a lot of thinking about how a performance audit has to be done. The CAG has been transparent about it. In my view, there ought to be more public consultation by the CAG on this. A government must look at the CAG report as one for introspection and not simply something for denial. It should not look at a report just to dismiss it. It may disagree with the conclusions. There could be something in the report that should set the government on the process of self-correction.”
Mr. Subramaniam said if the Lokpal was not happening then the existing constitutional institutions should be given an important place for accountability and governance.
“The CAG is not expected to be a silent [spectator]. The day you find the CAG cannot interrogate government action, he is meant to be at arm’s length from the government, I am sorry, it means that we are actually muzzling another constitutional institution. It will be very detrimental to parliamentary democracy. A mature Parliament will have to put its head together and find a concrete answer. These are processes of correction and it must never be discouraged. However harsh or extreme, they must to allowed to take place in a democracy,” he said.