The ever so voluble Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, V Narayanasamy is a wise man. He first let out the trial balloon—the government actively considering to make Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) a multi-member body—then sensing a political backlash came his retraction, blaming the news agency PTI for misquoting.
Narayanasamy’s retraction is unlikely to be rooted in his faith in the CAG but more, perhaps, in the belated realisation that it was a constitutional body that draws its mandate through Article 148 of the Indian Constitution: "There shall be a Comptroller and Auditor General of India who shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal and shall only be removed from office in like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court." The CAG heads more than 58,000 employees across the country. He is ranked 9th and enjoys the same status as a Supreme Court judge.
Since the CAG is a constitutional body, any tinkering with its constitution would need an amendment by Parliament – passed by 2/3rd of the present and voting, which should not be less than half of the total members in both Houses of Parliament.
At the time when the Manmohan Singh government is walking on thin ice after the exit of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress to have the arithmetic of simple majority on its side for a Constitutional amendment is really, mission impossible. It is interesting that both Narayanasamy’s proposition and denial came when the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and new Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath have been engrossed in lunch and dinner diplomacy with the two numerical heavyweights from Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.
The government is already hard pressed to count the majority mark numbers on its side if a resolution on FDI has to be voted in Parliament. It was in no way possible for the government to open another front on something like diluting the powers of CAG. As it is, the Manmohan government has now been reduced to a minority and is dependent on issue-to-issue outside support of Samjawadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.
There are two interesting facts, however, that have come out – one, that there is a proposal before the government through former CAG VK Shunglu’s letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, suggesting that the CAG be made a multi-member body and former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi has supported the idea. Two, the UPA government is not comfortable with the incumbent CAG Vinod Rai who has become a popular anti-corruption hero. His reports ranging from CWG, 2G, Coal mining scam and so on have troubled it more than the opposition parties onslaught. Interestingly, the Election Commission was converted into a three-member body after TN Seshan was found to be too difficult to handle by then Rajiv Gandhi government.
The BJP has naturally pounced on the opportunity. Former BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu said attempts to undermine the CAG would boomerang on the Congress. "Scams would not go away by painting CAG black. Such attempts would boomerang on the Congress."
The prime minister had earlier asserted that the observations of the CAG coal scam were disputable and they will be challenged before the Public Accounts Committee. This virtually opened a floodgate whereby other ministers and Congress leaders took a cue from him to attach motives to CAG.
As the controversy rages outside, the officials in the CAG are sitting pretty and un-hassled for they are covered by a protective Constitutional ring until May 2013.