Vinod Rai seeks constitutional status for CBI and CVC

Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai, whose reports on the alleged irregularities in allocations of coal blocks and 2G spectrum sparked a political storm, on Wednesday deprecated as “appalling” the “brazenness” with which the decisions were taken.

However, with the Right to Information Act in place, the administrative and political executive had become conscious that they “will have to be answerable.” “...each one of us will be held accountable, we are conscious of that,” he said, pointing out that everything was in the public domain nowadays.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting here, Mr. Rai sought constitutional status for the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Central Vigilance Commission to make them effective instruments for fighting corruption. “... if you really want some of these institutions [such as the CBI and the CVC] to deliver, you must take a risk and ... have courage to make them constitutional.”

Mr. Rai said the CBI and the CVC were not independent, that was why people called them a “handmaid of government.” “If Lokpal is expected to function with autonomy and total independence, you will have to guarantee a constitutional mandate.”

As for the CBI, he said it “is not independent of [the] executive [and] that’s why very often everybody writes...that the CBI has become the handmaid of government in power. Look at the CVC... [It] is another body much feared, much maligned... but still a statutory body. It is not a constitutional body.” Noting that corruption could not be eliminated with the Lokpal law alone, Mr. Rai said: “...if we are conscious of that, we can reduce cronyism or nepotism, and to that extent that we can tackle this hydra-headed monster called corruption.”

Answering questions on the way the CAG assessments were being called into question by the government and other agencies, Mr. Rai said: “Nobody faulted us on facts... This [the loss figure] is debatable... if it is not Rs 1.76 [lakh crore on 2G spectrum allocation], it may be Rs. 1.6 [lakh crore] or maybe Rs. 2.6 [lakh crore].”

The auditors, he added, gave stakeholders enough opportunities to give their version of the facts during the entry and exit conferences. “We had 2-3 exit conferences, where we said ‘if we are wrong in facts, please point us out.’ We gave them enough or more opportunities to correct facts. The auditor will have [an] opinion. In its reports, it will obviously give the opinion. But on facts, we didn’t want to go wrong.”

The CAG’s assessment of the loss, running into lakhs of crores, in the 2G spectrum and coal blocks allocations to private companies was questioned by the government and other agencies. The government auditor’s report on the spectrum allocation pegged the loss at Rs. 1.76 lakh crore, and on the coal blocks at Rs 1.86 lakh crore.

Tewari hits back

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari hit back at Mr. Rai: “If he talks about brazenness in decision-making and if it refers to the period of this particular government, I think it would be worth his while to recall that he was part of the same government from 2004 to 2008. And I guess, when he talks about brazenness, that paradigm equally applies… to everyone who was part of the government.”

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