Citizens' Issues
Vinod Rai demits office: A CAG that India will miss

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.

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COMMENTS

ANIL KUMAR JALOTA

4 years ago

He will always be remembered as a game changer in India. He showed to bureaucrats that , in case they decide, they can attempt to change the destiny of the nation. NO CAG SHALL BE A RUBBER STAMP IN FUTURE.

shailesh gandhi

4 years ago

Some Congress spokesmen are saying Vinod Rai was not loyal to the Government! Someone says loyalty should be to the Supreme Court! The loyalty of every right-thinking Public servant should be to the Constitution and the people of India only. India salutes Mr. Vinod Rai.

REPLY

hasmukh

In Reply to shailesh gandhi 4 years ago

I join you all in giving Salute to this Big bureaucrat. Some Central ministers, who ought to mind their own business, find mistakes in the work done by our favourite CAG. Wish, our future CAG s also follow the principles and courage of Shri Vinod Rai.

gcmbinty

4 years ago

Replacement of Mr. Vinod Rai is difficult to come but the stock is not insufficient as not to point one from the rot. In fact Mr. Rai has laid the foundation for the future CAGs to act effectively as most of the Chief Election Commissioners have been after Mr. T. N.Seshan. PILs have already been filed against the appointment of Def Secretary as CAG. Presently, the issue is out of the hands of the political leadership.

hasmukh

4 years ago

Salute to Shri Vinod Rai and wish all the Best for future.

Wish, all the Ministers and the bureaucrats in our Governments had the similar qualities like Shri Vinod Rai. But, that appears to be too much to expect.

nagesh kini

4 years ago

In Mr. Vinod Rai, TN Seshan and Chaturvedi we had for a change real game changers who made it known what good governance means.
The Office of the CAG are no mean bean counters who churn out big fat reports that are more often than not just filed away by those are expected to act.
His Noddy Book reports have brought the working of his office to the aam janata.
Long time back in a Doordarshan TV interview he said he was contactable on the internet by making available his personal ID. On a simple mail, his office provided me with an Environment Audit Report.
Before demitting office he deftly avoided any responses to TV Anchors queries on his reaction to Manish Tiwari and Kapil Sibal.

REPLY

Amritha Srinath

In Reply to nagesh kini 1 year ago

Hi, can you please share the contact details of Mr Vinod Rai?

nagesh kini

4 years ago

In Mr. Vinod Rai, TN Seshan and Chaturvedi we had for a change real game changers who made it known what good governance means.
The Office of the CAG are no mean bean counters who churn out big fat reports that are more often than not just filed away by those are expected to act.
His Noddy Book reports have brought the working of his office to the aam janata.
Long time back in a Doordarshan TV interview he said he was contactable on the internet by making available his personal ID. On a simple mail, his office provided me with an Environment Audit Report.
Before demitting office he deftly avoided any responses to TV Anchors queries on his reaction to Manish Tiwari and Kapil Sibal.

Suiketu Shah

4 years ago

Wonderful leader Mr Rai was.The fact that he was so so so much disliked by some leaders itself is an indication how honest he was under loads of political pressure.Diamonds among pebbles,Mr Rai.All the best in yr future career.

Dayananda Kamath k

4 years ago

sri vinod rai has shown what cag can do what are his powers. but unfortunately since 1968 cag reports were not discussed in parliament and most of the time they were gilotinned. some time in 1984 one mr. chaturvedi a former cag(if i am correct wrote an article in indian express regarding cag reports) i rmember at that time itself the double payments, fraudulent payments and unauthorized payments are far more than our fiscal deficit.the members of parliament have failed miserably the people of india by not discussing and insisting action on these reports. this is one of the primary duties of a member of parliament to see that the funds are used properly and adequately for the public good. hope the incumbent will rise to the occasion.already there is news of conflict of interest he being secretary defense (westland helicopter deal) i do not understand why the govt does such appointments like vijayan to irda u.k sinha to sebi. it shows the vested interest in these appointment's. this is the reason for all scams and corruption. it is protected promoted by the authority which is devised in democracy to prevent.

REPLY

ashwin bahl

In Reply to Dayananda Kamath k 4 years ago

Bro, it is obvious most important appointments have one thing in common, you have to be YES MEN of the rulers, that is the main qualification and criteria !

Sethi

4 years ago

Thank you Mr Rai for leaving a legacy behind for others to follow . The corrupt politicians are shouting from the roof tops because you hurt them , where it hurts most , their pockets . Hoping you would continue to serve the country in your post retirement life . Best of luck .

suresh hegde

4 years ago

As has been apty told by others, India in general and common people in particular will really be missing Mr. Vinod Rai. People have seen him as role model. Can we hope that the incumbant will also try to follow the footfrint of Mr.Rai and thrive to contnue the great work done by Mr. Rai. Mr.Rai wishing you a very happy and safe retired life.

Ratna Magotra

4 years ago

Vinod Rai's robust management at the helm made institution of CAG known to common man. It was Sheshan who brought power of Election Commission home some years back. Institutions need but one man at the top to discharge the responsibilities given to them by our Constitution. Rai has proved to be the most influential person in the recent times to restore confidence of public. Wish him the best and may he continue to serve people in a role of his choice.

ashwin bahl

4 years ago

One of its kind, a brave man who took on the establishment fearlessly, wish him all the best in the future.

M G WARRIER

4 years ago

Sandwiched between a hostile community of beneficiaries of largesse from government via different routes and a government benevolent in showering praises on CAG only when it has to defend itself from opposition attack, Vinod Rai had to assert his stance defending public interest in public on an ongoing basis, which is a tough task for any civil servant in India. If the institution of CAG and the individual have been able to carry on unperturbed, proactive support from media and organisations like Moneylife Foundation did help the process.
The efforts taken by Vinod Rai and his predecessors to sharpen the available tools by infusing expertise into the organisation and by training and educating cadres down below have brought professionalism in the performance of audit function and improved the confidence level of staff. If similar initiatives had come from his counterparts heading several government departments and public sector or statutory organizations, the agony the UPA II government is now subject to would have been much less.
The critiques who are saying that accountant and auditor should bother only about the accuracy of figures are, for reasons best known to them, pleading ignorance of the changes that have happened in the law and practice of accounting and audit and the reforms in the CAG’s office brought about in recent years.
Let us wish Vinod Rai an active, healthy and ‘busy’ post-retirement life pursuing the causes he keeps close to his heart.

Why re-examine the Gadgil Committee report on Western Ghats?

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

 
EAS Sarma, former secretary of the Government of India (GoI), has questioned the appointment of another committee, a high-level working group (HLWG) under the chairmanship of Dr Kasturirangan to evaluate the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report (WGEEP) submitted by the Prof Madhav Gadgil Committee.
 
In a letter written to Jayanthi Natarjan, minister of state for environment and forest, the former secretary has questioned the motive behind the constitution of new committee to revaluate the exhaustive report of the Gadgil Committee. “Many of us felt distressed and distraught when your ministry had constituted yet another committee, this time under the chairmanship of Dr Kasturirangan, member of Planning Commission, to re-evaluate the Gadgil Committee report. How is that committee more qualified to question Gadgil Committee’s studies? Did it not result in wasting the tax payer's money?” he said.
 
Mr Sarma said, “In fact, on the same lines as HLWG, I had earlier requested you to set up a similar expert committee to evaluate the threats to the Eastern Ghats. Perhaps, sensing opposition from your colleagues who are clearly in league with the crony capitalist promoters of industry, you have preferred not responding to my appeal,” Mr Sarma said in the letter.
 
After orders from the Central Information Commission and the Delhi High Court, the ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) in May 2012 published the WGEEP report on its website. The reluctance of the ministry was obvious.
 
The WGEEP report submitted by the 13-member panel headed by noted Pune-based ecological expert Prof Gadgil has damned the construction of big dams; the ongoing mining activities; the devastation of chemical industries on the fragile environment of the Western Ghats that comprise 1.29 lakh odd km stretching over six states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat).
 
What was hurting to the powerful developmental lobbies were the stringent recommendations made by the WGEEP in terms of making all the 142 talukas that come under the Western Ghats, into Environmental Sensitive Zones (ESZs) of three categories—ESZ I, ESZ II and ESZ III as per order of fragility. 
 
Here is the letter sent by Mr Sarma...
 
To
Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of State (Environment & Forests)
Govt. of India
 
Dear Smt. Natarajan,
 
Subject:- Why re-examine the Gadgil Committee report on Western Ghats? How is the new Committee competent to undertake such a re-examination?
 
I refer to the comprehensive report submitted by the Committee constituted under the chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil (HLWG report) and the report of yet another committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan to re-evaluate the HLWG report.
 
Having interacted with Prof Madhav Gadgil in one session while he was in the process of formulating his views on Western Ghats a couple of years ago, I thought that there could be no better person than him to evaluate the ecology of the Western Ghats and recommend measures to protect it. The Committee under his chairmanship had gone about in a systematic and professional manner and come up with suggestions that would save the Western Ghats and its resources for the posterity. I felt disturbed when MOEF had displayed inexplicable hesitation in releasing that report. It was under intense public pressure that your Ministry had to place the report in the public domain.
 
Western Ghats are rich in biodiversity and the health and the well being of their ecology will determine the future of that region for centuries to come. As a result of indiscriminately set up industrial and mining projects, the ecology of that region has already come under a serious threat.  The region cannot bear any additional stress. If at all, the stress that already exists may have to be reduced.
 
In fact, on the same lines as HLWG, I had earlier requested you to set up a similar expert committee to evaluate the threats to the Eastern Ghats. Perhaps, sensing opposition from your colleagues who are clearly in league with the crony capitalist promoters of industry, you have preferred not responding to my appeal.
 
Many of us felt distressed and distraught when your ministry had constituted yet another committee, this time under the chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan, Member of Planning Commission to re-evaluate the Gadgil Committee report. How is that committee more qualified to question Gadgil Committee's studies? Did it not result in wasting the tax payer's money?  Apparently, the Gadgil Committee report would hurt the interests of several corporates and, therefore, is unpalatable to the rulers of UPA! The way the HLWG report has so far been handled by the Prime Minister, the Planning Commission and MOEF confirms my strong feeling that most decisions of UPA are dictated these days by crony capitalists who seem to permeate the system like never before!
 
What worries me most in the latest report (Kasturirangan's) is that it contemptuously dismisses the role of the people at the grass-roots in economic decision making. The authors of the latest report seem to be oblivious of the fact that the Indian Constitution begins with the words, “We, the people of India...” Ours is a democratic system. The authority that is implicit in the Constitution emanates from the people. The Gram Sabhas are a Constitutionally created entity. The real wisdom and the knowledge about the ecology of any region rest in the local communities. To think that the ultimate wisdom rests with the Planning Commission, or the South Block, or Paryavaran Bhavan, is to delude oneself.
 
I feel pained to read the letter written by Prof Madhav Gadgil to Dr. Kasturirangan on the latter's report. I have enclosed a copy of that letter for your ready reference. I am sure that several persons among the civil society have also written to you, expressing their concerns.
 
I realise that MOEF has fixed a ‘deadline’ for submitting comments on the report and it so happens that today is that deadline! When the ecology of the country comes under the threat of crony capitalism of the worst kind, these deadlines have no relevance.
 
I fully endorse what Prof Madhav Gadgil has said in his letter to Dr. Kasturirangan. I wish Dr. Kasturirangan and his colleagues in his committee had the courage and conviction to tell MOEF that they would not re-evaluate Prof Gadgil's report.
 
I request MOEF to reject Dr. Kasturirangan Committee report and, instead, accept HLWG report without any hesitation. The sooner that MOEF does this, the greater will be its credibility as a body obligated under Article 48A of the Constitution to protect the environment of this country.
 
I am confident that you will accede to this appeal unhesitatingly.
 
I have marked copy of this letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, hoping that they would introspect on what I have said here..
 
Regards,
Yours sincerely,
 
 
EAS Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI
Visakhapatnam
 
Separately, Prof Gadgil in an open letter to Dr Kasturirangan pointed out that out that the WGEEP report has advocated a graded approach with major role for grassroots level inputs to safeguard the Western Ghats. On the other hand, the HLWG rejected the framework and advocated partitioning of the natural and cultural landscapes. 
 
Prof Gadgil said, “This is like trying to maintain oases of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Such fragmentation would lead, sooner rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oases. It is vital to think of maintenance of habitat continuity, and of an ecologically and socially friendly matrix to ensure long-term conservation of biodiversity-rich areas, and this is what we had proposed”. 

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After 21 years, Maharashtra issues circular for anti-terrorism day

After almost 21 years since Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the Maharashtra government issued a circular to observe 21st May as anti-terrorism day 

 
While several states across the country mark 21st May as anti-terrorism day, in remembrance of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the government of Maharashtra has finally woken up to the idea. After almost 21 years, since Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the Maharashtra government on 16 May 2013 issued a circular to observe the anti-terrorism day from this year onwards.
 
Surprisingly, it took a letter (warning) from the Union home ministry for Maharashtra government to come up with its own circular for observing 21st May as anti-terrorism day in the state.
 
The letter was sent by Bhagwan Shankar, joint secretary in the Union home ministry, on 8 May 2013. Acting swiftly on the letter, the state government then issued its circular within a week after receiving the warning letter, claims social activist Anil Galgali.
 
Galgali, also an avid RTI activist said Maharashtra government was never serious on the issue (terrorism) and it took the warning letter from Union home ministry for the state machinery to issue a circular after 21 years.
 
Galgali had also sent a letter to the President of India, prime minister and chief secretary, urging them to enquire in to the delay in issuing the circular and take action against the officer/s responsible for the 21-year delay.
 
The day is observed to generate awareness in the country among all sections of people, about the danger of terrorism and violence and its effect on the people, society and the country as a whole. 
 
It was on this day in 1991 that Rajiv Gandhi fell to the designs of terrorists. This practice to observe 21st May as anti-terrorism day began in 1992. However many states including Maharashtra ignored it every year. 

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