In a letter to Manmohan, CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta suggested a three-member collegium to choose CEC and CAG

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that there is no ‘urgent need’ to consider changes in the process of appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs).

In a letter to Communist Party of India MP Gurudas Dasgupta, Dr. Singh maintained that the procedure for appointment to these constitutional posts had been in existence for a long period and was followed by the earlier governments.

Mr. Dasgupta had written to Dr. Singh suggesting that there should be a three-member collegium, comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, to choose the CEC and the CAG.

Senior BJP 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.”

SP takes exception

Meanwhile, the Opposition and the Samajwadi Party, which is supporting the UPA from outside, have 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.

In an interview to the Press Trust of India, Mr. Narayanasamy had talked about the Centre mulling over a proposal to make the CAG a multimember body. Mr. Swamy later claimed that he was misunderstood.

BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad 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. “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.

Mr. Prasad said the UPA government was embarrassed by the reports of the CAG that pointed out anomalies in 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games, Coalgate and Delhi airport privatisation. “We would like to warn this government that any attempt to reduce the authority of the CAG and compromise the constitutional integrity of state institutions will be seriously opposed both inside and outside Parliament,” he said.

Samajwadi Party general secretary Mohan Singh said the talk of making the CAG a multimember body was either born out of ignorance or the government wanted to destroy the Constitution. “I condemn [Mr.] Narayanasamy’s remarks. People in responsible positions in government should avoid making comments against constitutional bodies. We will not support such a proposal under any condition. For the Election Commission, there is a provision in the Constitution to make it a multimember body. But in the case of [the] CAG, there is no such provision. You need to amend the Constitution for such a possibility and this government does not have the capability for doing so,” Mr. Singh said.

Slamming Mr. Narayanswamy, CPI national secretary D. Raja 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.”

“This government is neck-deep in corruption. Several Ministers have been running down the CAG in the recent past. So these kinds of statements show that the intentions of the government are suspect,” he observed.

Distancing itself from the Minister’s comments, the Congress said the government would not act on the basis of the statements of one person.

Party spokesman Sandeep Dikshit told reporters that the CAG was the “companion” of the government. “I don’t think the government will take institutional measures based on the activities of a person,” he said. Mr. Dikshit said the Minister clarified that he was “misquoted and misunderstood.”

Mr. Dikshit added: “The CAG is a companion of the government. It is [a] part and parcel of the government. The CAG is not pain in the neck for anyone. It gives an opinion, right or wrong, which is sent to the Public Accounts Committee for consideration. Unfortunately, it has given some reports which give an impression that [something is wrong between the CAG and the government].”

“Right now, [the] Congress has no stand on the subject. The Constitution speaks of one CAG. The Shunglu Commission has given its report. Making the CAG a multimember body is a recommendation of the Committee. It is for the government to look into it or not,” he said.

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