IN Para 25 of its Rafale verdict, the Supreme Court said that the CAG report on the deal “has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee” and that “a redacted (parts edited out after being judged sensitive) portion of the report was placed before Parliament, and is in public domain.”
Given that there is no CAG report so far and, therefore, nothing has been sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Government, in its application, asked the court to correct this. It told the court that all it had submitted in sealed cover on the subject was a statement of the process. That the report of the CAG is examined by the PAC and “only a redacted version of the report is placed before the Parliament and in public domain”.
Several experts and retired officials of CAG and Parliament have raised questions over this claim, arguing that there is only one CAG report — there is no example of any “redacted version” being placed in the public domain.
“There is no provision for any redaction of a CAG report, nor is there a precedent. There is no such thing under the law, under the Constitution,” former Secretary General of Lok Sabha P D T Achary told The Indian Express.
“I have never heard the term (redaction) before. There is only one CAG report which is prepared after due diligence by the auditors, vetted by Deputy CAG and approved personally by the CAG. Once it is presented to Parliament, it is a public document,” said former Deputy CAG, Dr B P Mathur.
“The Constitution states that the reports of CAG shall be laid before each House of Parliament. The Lok Sabha rules of procedure specify that all papers and documents laid on the table shall be considered public,” said Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research.
Another former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha told The Indian Express on the condition of anonymity, “Redaction has not happened so far, the word is new to the system. Maybe you can have redactions in the future.”
“Whatever reports are there from the CAG, they are submitted to Parliament and go to the PAC. Finance Minister lays them on the table of the house. PAC is assisted by the CAG; in fact, CAG can be said to be a part of the PAC setup,” added Achary.
Devender Singh, former Additional Secretary of Lok Sabha, who was associated with the PAC as an official for 11 years, said: “The PAC examines the report with the help of the CAG, identifies paragraphs which need answers from the government and then seeks presence of various persons before it. PAC reports on the CAG’s observations are presented to the Parliament. It is a very thorough and comprehensive process.”
Mathur explained that “a draft CAG Report, which is secret and not for public consumption, is shared with the government and the replies of the government are accommodated at that stage in the final report. In many final reports, name of countries or types of weapon systems or make of weapons or quantity are masked for reasons of national security before it is sent to Parliament.”
A recently retired CAG, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that “whatever is to be masked is done before the report is made public. In case the PAC asks the CAG for portions masked in the report, the CAG shares it with the committee in complete confidence for the committee’s understanding.”
Which details are sensitive and need to be masked is decided by consultation between the government and the CAG before the draft report. Said the recently retired CAG: “Either the requirement can come from the government or the same can be decided by the CAG. For example, the government asked that the data about Air Defence of Army be not made public. There are two to three such reports every year with some masked portions”.
The only difference on national security, he said, is that the CAG does not place most of the reports pertaining to defence on its website, although their hard copies are placed in Parliament.
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