Vinod Rai, the CAG of India is the man behind all the major headlines we have read over the past few years—the 2G scam, coal block allocations called Coalgate, the Commonwealth Games scam and so on. He is demitting the CAG office on Wednesday reminding us that “tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today”
Vinod Rai, the man behind all the major headlines of the last five years steps down on Wednesday allowing the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to heave a sigh of relief. But to most ordinary Indians, Mr Rai was the new national hero—someone who used his official post to do the job that the Constitution of India envisaged for him and in the process demonstrated how politicians were ganging up to strip the national exchequer. In the process, many ordinary people who had no clue what the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) does, suddenly became aware about the powers of this office. The respect that Mr Rai commands was evident from the two-time standing ovation that he received at Moneylife Foundation’s third anniversary function on 15th February when the delivered the keynote address.
Interestingly, Mr Rai is also the first CAG to attempt to reach out to people by publishing the gist of audit reports in the form of colourful, easy-to-read and understand “Noddy Books” (character made famous by the favourite children’s book writer Enid Blyton). These are available on the CAG website for all to access.
In sharp contrast to this public adulation was the response of India’s political class. Congress leader Digvijay Singh called his appointment “…one of UPA government’s biggest mistakes”. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar was equally critical about Rai’s “public utterances” and even the prime minister talked about the CAG going beyond its mandate. Fortunately, many former bureaucrats came out strongly in support of Mr Rai having “reclaimed the pre-eminence” of the CAG office.
No wonder, Mr Rai is the first of 30 Indian CAGs, who will be remembered for showing us that the government and politicians can be made accountable, if statutory bodies simply do their job.
CAG Vinod Rai’s relentless audit and fearless disclosures have told the story of the massive real and potential losses in the sale of 2G telecom spectrum, the Commonwealth Games, allocation of captive coal blocks and irrigation projects.
Never before has the CAG had such a powerful impact on public assessment of the government. It underlines one thing. Very often, we say: What can one man do? That is really an excuse for not doing anything. More interestingly, Mr Rai managed to face up to relentless political pressure with unflappable élan.
Speaking at Moneylife Foundation’s 3rd anniversary event on 15th February, Mr Rai had said that the government has been too used to paid audiences at political rallies and is now starting to be terrified of the silent majority. In a powerful speech, Mr Rai reminded the citizens the responsibility of ensuring good governance, saying that too much is at stake for this duty to be ignored.
While private institutions as well as individuals also need to be accountable, Mr Rai had said that more is required of the government. He said, “Accountability becomes more important when public funds are involved. This is because public funds come from taxes, which we have to pay. Because there is compulsion to pay, we need to know how the money is spent. This is why governments have higher accountability to its citizens.”
“Democracy without accountability is a body without a soul”
After years of slumber, Mr Rai believes, that citizens are finally waking up to find that they need to demand good governance themselves, rather than expect it. “Value-for-money in provision of public services,” he said, “is the basic tenet of democracy. Democracy without accountability is a body without a soul. But the public perception indicates that elements of ethics and integrity are lacking. The public has come to realise that governance is too important to be left only to the government. Each stakeholder is now vociferous, discerning and demanding.”
Mr Rai particularly noted the waking up of the urban middle-class last year. He said, “In 2012, the citizens took centre-stage, debunking the myth of the silent majority. This shows the maturing of Indian democratic forces. Citizens now seek a dialogue and this is the old order changing. Perhaps the urban middle-class united because of corruption at every government office. They have grown united and strong. This has taken the administration by surprise. They were never prepared. The government was too used to paid crowds at political rallies. This is the very reason for the insensitive and misguided response you saw in December and January.”
“If the government doesn’t perform, we have none other than ourselves to blame”
Mr Rai said what we need to do to ensure that the government does not forget what its job is. “The judiciary ensures horizontal accountability. What we need is vertical accountability, from the citizens, mass media and society in general. We need to remember that we ourselves give the government. If the government does not perform, we have none other than ourselves to blame. But it now looks as if the people are waking up again, as is evidenced by, for example, the reopening of Jessica Lal case. India demonstrated its ability to rise up at the time of independence, then again when democracy was snuffed out in 1975, when the economy was liberalised, and now again. We need to keep this up. There is too much at stake to give up,” he said.
Mr Rai took over as the Comptroller & Auditor General of India on 7 January 2008. He has a Master’s Degree in Economics from Delhi University and Masters in Public Administration from Harvard. A 1972 batch IAS from the Kerala cadre, he was the Additional Secretary, Banking and later, Secretary, Department of Financial Services, in his previous assignments.
According to media reports, defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, an IAS officer of the 1976 batch from Bihar cadre, would replace Mr Rai as the next CAG of India.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a statement has alleged that in the absence of a formal selection process for the job, the appointment is entirely arbitrary, non-transparent, and based on the decision of the finance ministry. It has also said that as CAG, the new appointee will be in charge of auditing defence contracts that he was involved in deciding. This compromises his “institutional integrity” as laid-down by the Supreme Court and his appointment is liable to be challenged.
Even as the deadline for inviting comments on the report of Dr Kasturirangan-led HLWG ended today, former secretary EAS Sarma had questioned the motive in re-evaluation of the Gadgil Committee report on Western Ghats
After almost 21 years since Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the Maharashtra government issued a circular to observe 21st May as anti-terrorism day