By Ananya Mishra
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
The Indian Constitution possesses instruments which prevent the democracy from compromising on certain basic principles. Provisions like Article 148, 315, 324 corresponding to the provisions of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Union Public Service Commission and the Election Commission are pillars of the Constitution. While UPSC has stood out as an institution par excellence, there has been transformative leadership in CAG and EC that has taken it to completely new levels of integrity and work ethics.
This takes one back to 1990s. The Election Commission had a lot to deal with. Criminalisation of election, cash for votes, distribution of liquor, bogus voting among others prevailed. At this critical juncture, the Government of India appointed T.N. Sheshan as the Chief Election Commissioner and what happened next was unprecedented. He is said to have conducted the fairest elections in living history, however in order for that to have happened, a string of reforms were introduced like setting an upper ceiling on expenditure, the issuing of voter ID cards to the eligible voters, prohibition of distribution of liquor, communal speeches, campaign through machinery etc. Such measures revolutionised the Election Commission forever. Such a figure in the bureaucracy assures that the Constitution and its tenets cannot and shall not be compromised.
Thus, it is in this context, that the hullaballoo surrounding the revelations from CAG need to be examined. The sensationalised audit report which exposed the CAG scam was criticised by P.J. Nayak. The rationale behind the criticism was that CAG had acted beyond its authority. Here, what was noteworthy were the actions of Vinod Rai, who has single handedly revolutionised the office of CAG. He changed the way people perceived the CAG- from an agent of the government, justifying appropriations, to a symbol of accountability. A transformative leadership, just what India needs.
What followed and the number games regarding the 2G spectrum allocation is for the jury to decide, but what one may need to observe here is the position the CAG is conferred in the Constitution and the powers it has been devolved. Firstly, CAG is not exactly a comptroller, like in the U.K. where the Comptroller is the Exchequer and therefore, the parliament cannot appropriate from the treasury without the prior approval of the Comptroller. In India, the CAG merely conducts retrospective auditing and has prospective value in improving the system and procedures, which makes it a quasi-judicial body and can make institutions accountable. However, with time, the CAG Duties and Power and Condition of Services Act 1971 has become obsolete and in the current market scenario needs to be reviewed. Firstly, during 1971, terms like Public-Private Partnership, Panchayati Raj were alien to India. The auditing of accounts of secret services is not under its ambit. Reviewing PPP is essential considering the incumbent the government is seeking to boost infrastructure along the PPP route. Panchayati Raj needs to be preserved and therefore, needs transparency and accountability. The concept of social audits has been introduced with the Centrally Sponsored Schemes like MGNREGA and NRLM- Aajeevika. In view of these factors- PPP, Social Audits, and Panchayati Raj; the DPC Act needs to be reviewed and enabling provisions have to be introduced.
Ours is the largest democracy in the world, but what difference will it make if the institutions of accountability are party to the Executive. An optimist would see figures like Sheshan and Rai as symbols of hope and pride. Hope for clean India, a better democracy and an accountable Executive. And pride, for in times when countries are breaking into anarchy, India is setting exemplary standards for world democracies.
Ananya Mishra is currently pursuing his BSc in Physical Sciences. He is a KVPY scholar and is into active research in data analysis. Apart from these, he is also an active student member of Institute of Actuaries India. His interest spans financial mathematics, investments, current politics and international affairs. Other hobbies include chess and computing.