Shut down the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India, the Congress demanded on Wednesday.
Dripping sarcasm, the demand has been born out of frustration at the inability of the key institutions of democracy to enforce accountability upon the Narendra Modi government.
Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said: “There was a time when TV anchors started jumping in anger (when CAG reports came out). They asked uncomfortable questions and held discussions on the reports. Now, the media has presumed Modi can commit no wrong.”
Shrinate added: “Not one, the CAG has exposed seven scams in different departments. This must be a part of an international conspiracy. Modi should send the ED, CBI and income tax to raid the CAG and put the officials in jail. How dare the CAG find irregularities of the Modi government? They think that India is still a democracy. Modi should shut down the CAG.”
The Congress has bitter memories of the political storm triggered by CAG reports that shook the Manmohan Singh government.
A report that escalated the backlash on the then UPA government was an imaginary estimate of possible loss put out by the then CAG, Vinod Rai, who was made the chairman of the Banks Board Bureau after Modi came to power at the Centre. The "presumptive loss" of over Rs 1.76 lakh crore in the 2G case, which could not be established later, had helped the BJP in painting the then government as corrupt.
Adhir Chowdhury, the Congress Lok Sabha leader who also heads the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House, had some time ago written to the CAG about inordinate delays in filing audit reports over the past few years.
“Delay in reports ensure the burning issues are forgotten. By the time reports come, the governments have changed in states or events have overtaken the subject. We have summoned the CAG for an explanation for the delay in the next meeting,” Chowdhury had written.
Besides the delay, there has also been a decrease in the number of CAG reports. In Rai's tenure, over 200 audit reports for Parliament and state legislatures were churned out every year. But the CAG produced only 73 reports in 2018-19 and 98 in 2017-18.
The Congress has been complaining about the conspiracy to weaken the legal framework designed to fight corruption. The party has ceaselessly accused the ED, CBI and other central agencies of working as the BJP’s political tools.
The Congress has also charged the government with strangling the Right to Information (RTI) Act. While there was no investigation into the Rafale deal despite several unanswered questions, the Prime Minister has repeatedly called his opponents corrupt.
Shrinate contended that the CAG now is not talking about presumptive or notional losses, and the loot is well-documented and real. “The Bharatmala project, monitored by the CCEA (Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs), saw a cost escalation from Rs 15.37 crore a kilometre to Rs 32.13 crore a km. The bidding process was a fraud and no safety consultant was appointed. All this happened under the Prime Minister’s watch.”
She added: “In the Dwarka Expressway, the CAG found that Rs 18 crore per km jumped to Rs 250 crore per km. What wonder was created? Was this a road? This should be turned into a monument! And look at the corruption in the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). The CAG examined only five toll plazas and illegal collection of Rs 132 crore. If all the toll plazas in the country are probed, the loot will be worth lakhs of crores.”
Asked about the government’s claim that the cost escalation cannot be construed as corruption, Shrinate said: “Please find one expert in the world who will justify this cost escalation — from Rs 18 crore to Rs 250 crore for one km of road. Are all seven reports of the CAG fake and misleading? Our money is being gobbled up. Jago media, jago! Don’t fall for their hollow boasts of integrity and honesty.”
She said: “In the Ayushman Bharat health scheme, the CAG found 75 lakh people were registered under one mobile number. Payments were released in the name of 88,000 dead persons. Undue payments were released to contractors in the Ayodhya development project. In the rural development department, money for widow and old-age pension was diverted for publicity. In HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd), the CAG found a loss of Rs 154 crore due to design defect.”
Asking whether the Prime Minister will punish the surface transport minister (Nitin Gadkari) for the alleged corruption in road construction, Shrinate said: “This is a government which does nothing without the Prime Minister’s knowledge. Even toilets and trains are inaugurated by Modi himself. The responsibility obviously lies with the Prime Minister.”
Asked if there would be a campaign to prove corruption in the government, she said: “We don’t have to prove anything. The entire country knows how the BJP defends Adani. It becomes difficult to decide whether the spokespersons belong to the BJP or Adani.”