Letting CAG out of the bag

Contents of the yet-to-be released audit report of Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India's state wing has caused a storm in the state political circle and Opposition BJP and Shiv Sena are baying for the blood of the alleged beneficiaries from the land scam, who are prominent faces from the ruling Congress and NCP. The final outcome is yet unclear, for this is not the first time CAG has offered illuminating reports on the workings of the state government. A few intrinsic nubs of the report revealed by BJP have some damning revelations for the ruling combine. And it appears that the Opposition will not remain quiet till the reports are tabled officially in the ongoing budget session of the state legislature. Here, it must be noted that CAG prepares its reports based on the government decisions, programmes, and their implementation during a particular financial year. Apart from the selective contents revealed on Wednesday, CAG reports on three subjects — civil, commercial and revenue — are expected to be tabled by the state soon.

Apart from the yearly report, CAG goes for a test audit of specific subjects and submits a comprehensive audit report. The contents divulged by BJP legislator Devendra Fadnavis are part of a test audit based on state government’s decisions related to land allotments. Earlier, in 2008, CAG had prepared a test audit report on ‘Management of Co-operative Sugar Units’.

It was an important report as almost all the sugar mills are either run directly or controlled by who’s who from the state politics. Unfortunately, the report failed to generate heat despite the fact that the cooperative sugar units are recognised as the backbone of the rural economy and have been used as vote banks by state politicos. Most of the sugar units owed over Rs 2,500 crore till 2006 to the state exchequer for various reasons, the report revealed.

Similarly, a report on the farmers’ package announced by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the state government to stop agriculturists committing suicide in Vidarbha region was released the same year. UPA government had alone sanctioned Rs 3,750 crore for the package. But, CAG found a number of flaws in the implementation of the programme, including a startling fact that most of the farmers were unaware of the incentives offered by the government.

It was also pointed out specifically that the state administration even failed to include orange, a major cash crop in Vidarbha region, in the list of crops and fruits insured against failure. Yet another damning report came in after the 26 July 2005 Mumbai flooding that witnessed over 550 deaths in the city alone. Thousands of people were rendered homeless due to incessant rains and inundation.

The state had spent around Rs 1,200 crore towards immediate relief and rehabilitation of the people most affected. During its audit, CAG came across a number of inadequacies in the relief work, as many people who were distributed direct cash could not be found at their addresses. Even the postcards dispatched by CAG’s office to verify addresses given by the beneficiaries to the state administration, were returned by the postal department as many addresses were fake or the concerned person could not be found.

CAG had also pointed fingers towards the massive expenditure incurred for cleaning of Mithi River. Claims of huge spending were verified by the auditors. Later the report was scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the state legislature, which recommended action against officers responsible for the mess. Later, a CID inquiry was stayed under mysterious circumstances and the concerned files are gathering dust in Mantralaya cupboards.

The Opposition has always reasoned that CAG reports cannot be used to nail the government as they are always tabled on the final day of the state legislature session. But, the contention is far from satisfactory as the role of Opposition parties is not limited to legislature alone, whose job is to be a bone in the government’s throat at all times.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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