CAG’s powers and duties draw from a constitutional mandate.
The powers of the comptroller and auditor general to audit government revenues are currently under the highest scrutiny. At the start of the year, the Delhi government requested the CAG to audit private power distribution companies. Later, while deciding in favour of a CAG audit of private telecom companies, the Delhi High Court invoked the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2G case, quoting the doctrine of res communes — that natural resources are vested in trust with the state and that they should be “distributed as best to subserve the common good”.
It is important to note the caveat that limits the CAG’s audit powers. Because the telecom companies in question only have to pay the government a licence fee, the CAG audit will pertain to their “receipts and no more”.
The CAG’s powers to audit tax and non-tax revenues of the government originate from Article 149 of the Constitution, read alongside Section 14 and 16 of the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971, and from the regulations on audit and accounts framed in pursuance of Section 23 of the act.
According to Article 149, the CAG “shall perform such duties and exercise such powers in relation to the accounts of the Union and of the states and of any other authority or body as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament”. Audits in the public interest are provided for by Section 20 of the act. Further, the CAG can audit an account that has not been entrusted to it under law if the president, governor of a state or administrator of a Union Territory (UT) requests it to. The CAG may also propose to these functionaries that it should be allowed to audit any body or authority, if it is of the opinion that such an audit is necessary. Such a request may be allowed if it is in the public interest, and after giving the concerned body an opportunity to respond.
More specifically, Section 14 of the act empowers the CAG to audit any body or authority substantially financed by grants or loans from the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI) or of any state or UT having a legislative assembly. The audit shall be subject to the laws applicable to the body or authority, and shall extend to all its receipts and expenditures. Section 16 of the act mandates the CAG to conduct audits of the receipts of governments, giving it no discretion in the matter: “it shall be the duty of the CAG to audit all receipts which are payable into the Consolidated Fund of India and of each state and of each UT continued…