One suggestion is collegiums for selecting CAG must comprise CJI, Prime Minister and Opposition leader

Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta has claimed that the government is contemplating appointment of a senior official from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), as the next Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) unmindful of a conflict of interest as investigations are still on in the 2G scam.

The term of the current CAG Vinod Rai will end in May when he turns 65 years of age. For several months now, opposition leaders have been demanding collegiums to select a CAG, the Central Bureau of Investigation and other constitutional posts. One suggestion is that collegiums for selection of CAG should consist of the Chief Justice of India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Dasgupta had moved a calling attention motion in the Lok Sabha on appointment of next CAG but it could not be taken up as the Samajwadi Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam disrupted proceedings in the House.

The case of opposition is that collegiums for selection of candidates to constitutional posts such as the CAG would take away the discretionary powers of the government to choose a person who could be influenced.

The CPI leader contended that the government was planning to bring in a senior official from the DoT as it had taken a serious hit from the CAG reports on the issues related to allotment of 2G licences.

“It is human tendency to hit back when faced with an adverse situation. The government scents an opportunity to pick up a CAG it could influence. The CAG under the leadership of Mr. Vinod [Rai] has submitted 130 reports exposing some of the biggest scams in independent [India’s] history including the telecom scam, coal block allotment and irregularities in debt waiver scheme.

“Appointment of an official from the DoT as the new CAG is a case of direct conflict of interest as the 2G-related issues are still being investigated at various levels. The blatant manner in which the government misuses agencies was evident a couple of days when the Prime Minister expressed dismay over the CBI raids on [residences of] family members of [DMK supremo] M. Karunanidhi,” he maintained.

A few months ago in response to a letter by Mr. Dasgupta, Dr. Singh had said that there was no ‘urgent need’ to consider changes in the process of appointment of the CAG, and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs).

Dr. Singh maintained that the procedure for appointment to these constitutional posts had been in existence for a long period.

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani had suggested a five-member panel and Mr. Dasgupta consulted the leaders of the principal Opposition party before taking up the matter with the Prime Minister.

Dr. Singh, in his letter, said the government was open to changes in the process of appointment, resignation and removal of ECs, including the CEC, as part of electoral reforms. “I would like to point out that the procedure for appointment, resignation and removal of [the] Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners, as laid down by the government… has been in existence for a long period… Any change in the procedure… would require wide-ranging discussions with other political parties. This, if necessary, can be taken up as a part of the agenda for electoral reforms.”

Dr. Singh contended that the CAG’s reports were examined by a Parliamentary committee, which made recommendations to the executive for corrective action, if any. “The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has traditionally been a member of the main Opposition party. In view of this, there does not seem to be any urgent need to set up a committee for appointment of CAG.”

It is not the first time that the issue of appointment of CAG has been a subject of debate and controversy. The Opposition and the Samajwadi Party, which is supporting the United Progressive Alliance from outside, had taken serious exception to the statement of Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy that the government might consider a multimember CAG. Subsequently, the government had clarified that there was no such move at the moment.

In an interview to PTI, Mr. Narayanasamy said the Centre was mulling over a proposal to make the CAG a multimember body. He later claimed that he was misquoted.

BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad had described Mr. Narayanasamy’s remark as a “disturbing attempt” to reduce the authority of the constitutional body and said any such move would be seriously opposed by the BJP. “The BJP takes serious objection to this disturbing attempt by the government. We seriously apprehend that this remark of the Minister is not an off-the-cuff remark.” Faced with repeated exposures of scams by the supreme audit institution of the country, the government wanted to muzzle it, he said.

Samajwadi Party general secretary Mohan Singh had said the talk of making the CAG a multimember body was either due to ignorance or the government wanting to destroy the Constitution.

Slamming Mr. Narayanasamy, CPI national secretary D. Raja had said: “The timing of this statement is questionable. It is also deplorable. The CAG has exposed a number of major scams which took place under the Congress-led UPA-II. It has done commendable work and everybody appreciates it.”

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