The latest in what can be described as a series of “brickbat books” is former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai’s account of the years he spent as the country’s chief auditor under the UPA rule. The book itself is divided into specific case studies of the scams which unfolded during the Manmohan Singh years, with Rai squarely blaming the former prime minister for the sense of drift and official apathy as he witnessed it. A few days before the book’s official launch, Rai spoke to RITU SARIN about the core issued raised by him. Excerpts:
One of your motivations in writing this clearly was defending the CAG against the attack on it for being partisan and delivering a blow to the economy…
No, that was not the motivation, else I would have written it immediately after retirement. Neither did I want to create any sensation. What I thought was important is that the younger generation of auditors who were getting demoralised must know what actually transpired. Officers and bureaucrats must function transparently and in case of any wrong-going, speak up fearlessly. My account, I hope, will help them doing that.
Your attack on the former Prime Minister is quite direct. Now the Congress is calling your account politically-motivated. Did you expect this?
If I wanted political mileage, I would have done this four months ago before the elections. I purposely did not want to make it sensational. As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, what I have said is that all the information and papers did reach his desk. In the 2G case and the coal allocation matter, the Telecom Minister and the Coal Minister, respectively, kept him informed. Then how can he say he wanted transparency?
What precisely do you fault the former Prime Minister for?
For taking a distanced view of subjects like spectrum and coal allocation which is a matter which needs deliberation. Whether it was conduct of the Commonwealth Games or the coal allocation process, it is important for a leader to speak out. He should have guided the decision-making process in a certain direction but he did not. He was completely overpowered by the compulsions of coalition politics.
All through the book and in the annexure you have made use of official correspondence and also used personal accounts, for example, of conversations with the Prime Minister, to buttress your arguments. Is this expected?
In fact no confidential documents have been used. All the documents were used in our reports or obtained by people via RTI. And there are many personal conversations which I did not desire to put in the public domain.
For instance, you have mentioned one conversation with him when he speaks to you on being cautious about the Reliance Group. Isn’t that privileged?
That conversation is important from the auditing point of view. I raised it because it is an auditing issue. I met the PM routinely and so many details have been held back.
You have clearly thrown in some anecdotes to make the book sell. For instance, the fact that some MP’s requested you to keep the Prime Minister out of the PAC proceedings in the 2G case and later you talk about how the CAG itself toned down the report on Air India since “all hell broke loose” in the ministry after you mentioned in the draft report that then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had “nudged” others into taking decisions.
Why didn’t you name the MP’s in the first place?
This is something that happened on the sidelines of the PAC. It is a very small thing that is now being blown out of proportion in TV interviews. The mention of the draft report on Air India was made to show how robust our accounting system is. As I have already clarified, I have never met Praful Patel in my life.
A lacunae in a book by a ex-CAG is there is no critique of the review of the audit reports done by the PAC. You only once mention that nothing was heard about the PAC’s findings after the Air India audit?
I did not elaborate because the PAC’s proceedings are secret but there is no doubt that the PAC is not playing the role it should. What I have elaborated upon is how the PAC in the 2G case was in complete disarray and its proceedings and depositions made their way to the media.