CAG now dysfunctional: Retd civil servants sound alarm bells in open letter to President
The letter, signed by 86 retired bureaucrats belonging to the Constitutional Conduct Group, urges the President to ensure that the objectivity and independence of the CAG are uncompromised
The citizens' initiative called Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), a group comprising several former civil servants, on Saturday wrote an open letter to President Droupadi Murmu, regarding the recent controversy related to the autonomous functioning of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), intended to function as a government watchdog.
The letter, signed by 86 retired IAS, IPS, IFS, and IFoS officers, urges the President "to exercise the authority of your office to ensure that the objectivity and independence of the institution remains uncompromised and that the established processes and controls are not tampered with".
At the heart of the matter is the seeming decline in the CAG's activity, with the total number of CAG reports relating to Union government ministries and departments coming down from 55 in 2015 to 14 in 2020, a fall of 75 per cent.
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As the letter mentions, "The institution of the CAG does not seem to be discharging its duties with the speed that it is expected to, or that it had in the past. The number of audit reports relating to the union government's functioning which have been submitted before Parliament has shown a declining trend as may be seen below:
"Year 2015: 54 reports; 2016: 43 reports; 2017: 50 reports; 2018: 19 reports; 2019: 18 reports; 2020: 17 reports; 2021: 28 reports; 2022: 30 reports; 2023:16 reports."
In September, 12 CAG reports were presented in the monsoon session of Parliament. Days later, the CAG officers who were responsible for the audits that revealed corruption were transferred.
"These reports highlighted several instances of wrong or excess expenditure by the government and government bodies. Among the most egregious of these cases are the significant cost over-runs on road projects of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and other related bodies, and the false records of expenditure under the central government’s flagship health scheme, Ayushman Bharat," the letter states.
Listing out a series of statistics, the letter cites several examples such as the NHAI's Dwarka Expressway project under the Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase 1, in which the CAG had found that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had approved the project for an amount of Rs 18.20 crore per km, whereas the actual cost incurred was Rs 250.77 crore per km, about 14 times the approved amount.
Similarly in the case of the government’s Ayushman Bharat scheme or Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), the letter points out how the CAG found that while 88,760 patients had died during treatment, 2,14,923 claims were made at a later date for fresh treatment of the same patients.
"Despite the CAG pointing this out, and the National Implementation Agency that implements the programme undertaking that the loophole that existed would be plugged, fresh claims of treatment continued to be made for patients earlier shown as dead," the letter says.
On the transfer of CAG officials who filed the audit reports, the letter says, "These officers have been posted to unimportant positions such as Legal Officer (though the person concerned has no legal background) or to the Rashtra Bhasha cell, etc. and in some cases sent far away from their present place of posting.
"What is even more serious is that field audit has been suspended subsequent to the media attention. Stoppage of field audit work means that the CAG has become dysfunctional. It is a serious constitutional misconduct."
In August, the CCG had released an open letter to the Election Commission of India, urging it to initiate six steps to ensure free and fair polling during the upcoming state assembly elections in November and the Lok Sabha general elections in 2024,
This time, the group tells the president, "The CAG has, with a few exceptions, almost always worked with absolute transparency and fairness, and this seems to be in jeopardy now."