NEW DELHI: The number of reports brought out by the country’s top audit body, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, has come down sharply in the past five years, raising concerns that the government’s financial accountability is not coming under the CAG’s gaze very closely. The total number of CAG reports relating to central government ministries and departments came down from 55 in 2015 to just 14 in 2020, a fall of nearly 75%, a reply to an RTI application filed by this newspaper said.
The CAG’s mandate is to serve as a watchdog, bringing out financial, performance and compliance reports of the government. “The CAG is the supreme audit institution of India and is expected to promote financial accountability and transparency in the affairs of the audited entities,” the CAG said in its 2019-20 own performance report. The power its reports yield came out starkly during the United Progressive Alliance government of Manmohan Singh.
Its scathing reports on the 2G auction, coal block auction, Adarsh housing society and the Commonwealth Games of 2010 blighted Singh’s corruption-free image and brought down his government. The information received through the RTI application revealed that the number of CAG reports tabled in Parliament was the highest in 10 years during the early years of the National Democratic Alliance government.But the numbers have fallen steadily after that.
The RTI reply revealed that defence audit reports prepared and tabled in Parliament have also come down during the last few years. While eight audit reports were tabled in Parliament in 2017, it was zero last year. The story is repeated in railway audit reports. In 2017, five reports were prepared but it was only there in 2020. Former IAS officer Jawahar Sircar said the trend was bad as the CAG’s primary duty was to audit the expenditure of public money.
“The last two-three CAGs have not been very aggressive like Vinod Rai. In fact, they were unusually lenient and soft.” Sircar said even serious issues such as the impact of demonetization was not taken up by the CAG for audit. “What was the impact of banning the circulation of Rs 1,000 notes? This came at a time when this institution was required to stand up.” Former Lok Sabha secretary general P D T Acharya said the CAG’s mandate was to look into the accounts of the government and public sector undertakings and the falling numbers meant that the CAG was not picking up financial transaction for examination.
“The CAG has to find out whether money has been spent judiciously and as per the rules/laws. It is for the CAG to pick up all these transactions of the government and examine them. That means the CAG has picked up less number of things or the CAG perhaps did not find anything wrong in the accounts,” he said. When contacted, the CAG refused to comment but a source claimed that appropriation of finance accounts reports, which are mandatory in nature, are sent every year. “There may be some fall here and there on the compliance and performance audit reports as these are theme based and depend on the risk assessment,” the official said.
Comptroller and Auditor General reports came down from 55 in 2015 to just 14 in 2020, a fall of nearly 75%; defence audit report fell from eight in 2017 to zero last year; experts say expenditure of public money should be properly audited