CAG turns lakh into crore and then is shy of admitting the error
Even in a country inured to staggeringly large figures in general,and particularly in public discussions on corruption lately,they were incredible numbers. In a report tabled in Parliament,the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) alleged that the HRD ministry could not account for a shortfall in the department of higher education of Rs 116,000 crore in 2009-10. Consider this: the alleged shortfall exceeded the entire higher education budget of under Rs 16,000 crore by more than seven times reducing the budgetary allocation to a fraction of the estimated shortfall. Lakhs,it turns out,had become crores.
It could well be a clerical error,and the ministry is embarrassed by the oversight. But as framed by a report in this paper,the reaction of the CAGs office to being caught out,is troubling. It has refused to admit to a mistake,it has tried to pass the buck to the ministry for not raising any red flags while the figures were being discussed. The self-righteousness is worrisome for a larger reason. Ever since the 2G scam first hit the headlines,followed by the CWG controversy,corruption has deservedly become a salient issue in public discussion. For this,a vigilant CAG can take a large share of the credit. Leaks of CAG reports,on the 2G losses,the CWG scam,or on the coal blocks controversy,have helped the media to up the ante,push for the governments accountability. But if the CAG is not submitting its calculations to rigorous fact-checking,and if it is not seen to be accountable when its figures are revealed to be wrong,the larger anti-corruption campaign stands in danger of being undermined.
The governments claims must be open to scrutiny,of course. At the same time,the watchdog and the crusader cannot operate in secrecy,they must also submit themselves to the questioning gaze. Thats why the CAG,instead of appearing to hold its ground in a silly turf battle,should come clean on the error. Detecting an error and admitting it is,after all,the first principle of good auditing.