Mention CAG, and ministers in the ruling dispensation tend to see red.
Justice JS Verma, who submitted a 631-page report on gender justice and amendment of rape laws yesterday, has waved a whole red blanket before politicians’ eyes by saying that they may need a certificate from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to stay elected.
The dotted line connecting Justice Verma’s original brief to suggest changes in the rape law to his recommendation calling for a CAG audit of politicians’ assets is a jagged one.
Verma notes that many candidates with criminal records, including those accused of rape and sexual assaults, get elected. He also notes that the Election Commission does not seem to verify whether their declarations — about assets held, or criminal cases filed against them — are actually correct or adequately disclosed.
This leads him to his first recommendation that section 8(1) of the Representation of People Act 1951 should be amended to include all heinous offences and any “candidate who fails to disclose a charge or the commission of an offence should be disqualified subsequently.”
Verma even indicated his first target when he asked the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister to dismiss a state cabinet minister who failed to disclose one such offence in his election affidavit.
Since disclosures made to the Election Commission, including asset disclosures, are not verified, Verma suggested that CAG be asked to do the job. He recommended: “Scrutiny and verification of the disclosures made by candidates in respect of their assets may be made by the CAG with necessary follow up action in the case of such disclosures being found to be incorrect or false. Such discrepancies should be a ground for subsequent disqualification under the Representation of People Act 1951.”
Verma says that in a sample of 58,401 candidates who contested Lok Sabha and assembly elections, 2,468 elected members were found to have criminal cases against them. “This constitutes 31 percent of the Electoral College. We are of the opinion that if 31 percent of the Electoral College has either been charged with or convicted of a criminal offence, a fundamental attribute of morality which is inherent in discharging public functions stands seriously impaired. We may add that on the definition of heinous cases, which list we have supplied, 20 percent of all elected candidates have a criminal record involving such heinous offences.”
Verma has called for an amendment to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act 1971 “to permit a deeper investigation of assets/liabilities declared at the time of filing a nomination paper or, as soon as may be practical thereafter. The assets and liabilities of each successful candidate — at the very least, if not all candidates — contesting elections to the Parliament/state legislature may be verified by a division of the CAG of India.
“If this were so, then the law can be amended that a certificate from the office of the CAG of India will be necessary, which will certify that the assets which have been declared have been correctly declared. This would guarantee probity in public life and would ensure that any candidate who stands for election will have the requisite moral authority to be able to engage the people.”
Verma then closes the loop with his original brief — safety of women and gender justice. “We must express our total satisfaction at the representation and positive attitude of the Election Commission during the public hearing. It has fairly conceded that women cannot effectively exercise political rights when candidates who are in the electoral fray have a criminal record.”
Any bets on whether the government will give CAG an expanded role to audit its own ministers and MPs on shortcomings?