September 19, 2014 1:26:45 am
What is common between the much-hyped recent books on the Indian polity? Whether it is The Accidental Prime Minister by Sanjaya Baru, One Life is Not Enough by K. Natwar Singh, Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and Other Truths by P.C. Parakh or Not Just an Accountant: The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper by former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai, they all reflect on the ugly malfunctioning of the polity under the previous government. Added to this is the erosion of parliamentary control over the executive, which has led to corruption on a massive scale and the arbitrary exercise of executive power.
The former CAG, acting as the “conscience keeper” of the nation, has decided to let the cat out of the bag: coalition functionaries of the UPA regime had deputed politicians to get him to leave out certain names from audit reports. Rai believes that the history of Indian politics would have been different had then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to put his foot down against the wrongdoings that he knew about. At that time, it was the Supreme Court which came to Rai’s rescue and observed that “the CAG is not just a munim (accountant)”. According to Rai, he was under severe pressure during Public Accounts Committee meetings on the coal allocation issue, during which Congress members would put hostile questions to him. Despite the arguments and counterarguments about the veracity of the facts contained in all these books, one thing is clear: parliamentary democracy has deteriorated in recent times.
Now, we are facing yet another scam — the British Serious Fraud Office has alleged that Alstom Network UK paid bribes to win infrastructure contracts for the Delhi Metro between 2000 and 2006. This raises serious questions about the independence, integrity and competence of a plethora of anti-corruption investigative agencies like the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, CVC and Serious Fraud Investigation Office. Similar to this was the case in 2013, when the Italian special police exposed Indian politicians, bureaucrats and armed forces personnel for indulging in bribery in the multi-crore helicopter purchase deal with AgustaWestland.
In spite of having various investigative authorities, most corruption cases — 2G, Commonwealth Games, Adarsh and coal allocation, among others — were brought to light by CAG reports, media probes, PILs and judicial activism. The CAG reports on the coal block allocation, 2G and Commonwealth Games cases had estimated the notional losses to be Rs 1.86 lakh crore, Rs 1.76 lakh crore and Rs 8,000 crore, respectively. Besides, innumerable scams had occurred in different states during the same period. The media’s contribution to bringing wrongdoing to light has also been significant — the Tatra truck purchase case and urea scam are examples. The media is acting responsibly by highlighting corruption and nepotism. It is serving as the fourth pillar of democracy.
Underlying all these cases is the politician-bureaucrat-businessman nexus, which tries to scuttle investigations. It is dismaying that the present CBI chief has been questioned by none other than the Supreme Court for hobnobbing with tainted individuals and corporate executives. Earlier, the court had directly asked the CBI whether the rule of law had been observed in the coal block allocation case and whether criminal acts of omission or commission had been committed. The CBI’s closure report in one of the cases has also been questioned by the court.
The serious governance deficit in the country is highlighted by the Supreme Court’s recent judgment, which deems coal block allocations between 1993 and 2010 to be “illegal” and “arbitrary”. This could have an enormous impact on the economy because companies engaged in power, steel and cement production could lose coal blocks that have been allocated to them. If sincere efforts are made to prioritise good governance, accountability and transparency, the apex court’s ruling could pave the way for cleaning up the process of allocating natural resources. The judiciary has put certain ambiguities to rest, which could help put the economy back on the rails. But it is high time for the government to make investigators accountable. The checks and balances of a parliamentary democracy must be allowed to function as per the rule of law and the Constitution.
The writer is former director general, CAG. Views are personal
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