CAG report confirms what critics accuse Modi govt of: being opaque, window-dressing a lot

The Modi government should look into the mirror the CAG has held up, reboot, be humble and start working harder in areas it has failed in.

Abhijit Majumder September 27, 2020 10:57:02 IST
CAG report confirms what critics accuse Modi govt of: being opaque, window-dressing a lot

File image of the CAG office. News18

The latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) is the strongest indictment of the Narendra Modi government in six years. It points to extensive puff jobs and window-dressing to hide shortfall, treating transparency with contempt, and ineptitude in implementation.

What should embarrass the government is that all this is what some of its reasoned critics accuse it of. It is as if they were right all this while.

Also, the government cannot shrug off the CAG’s credentials. The BJP had come to power in 2014 waving the reports of this very institution which exposed the previous UPA government’s unblushing corruption and failures.

This time, the CAG has accused the government of not using Rs 47,272 crore of GST cess in a manner mandated by Parliament. Instead, the government retained the money under the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI). It helped the government understate the fiscal deficit, the report said.

Finance ministry sources have refuted the charge, arguing that time taken in reconciling compensation receipts cannot be termed as ‘diversion’ of the GST cess fund. But states like Bengal and Kerala have already complained of GST dues not being passed on by the Centre, and a showdown is inevitable at the October 5 GST Council meeting.

Tax issues seem to be this government’s speciality. The CAG reports has also accused the income tax department of harassing salaried taxpayers – the most honest, law-abiding and hardworking group when it comes to paying to the nation – by not issuing refunds for tax deducted at source (TDS). Nearly 82% taxpayers, mostly salaried, faced mismatch in TDS. This is one of the BJP’s biggest support bases.

Another extremely worrying CAG indictment is about toilets built in schools. It said 40% of the toilets were non-existent, partially built, or unused. Built by seven central public sector enterprises like NTPC, NHPC and ONGC, 72% of these toilets did not have running water, 55% lacked handwash facilities, and 30% had no soap or disinfectants. In the post-COVID-19 world, that is crime.

The other area the government seems to have gone off-track is railways. The CAG report says it “window-dressed” the 2018-19 operating ratio – the ratio of working expenses to traffic earnings – by factoring in next year’s freight earnings of Rs 8,351 crore.

And while the government claimed to have broken the record in manufacturing the maximum number of locomotive engines in a year, the CAG report shows 46% of those engines had broken down within 100 days of being commissioned. Defective material, poor workmanship and quality control, wastage of working hours and leaping repair costs…it is a portrait of perfect mess.

In the last six years, the Modi government has brought in pathbreaking policy changes like the GST, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and farm reforms, and almost unthinkable civilisational corrections like scrapping Article 370 and instant triple talaq. But in many ways, governance and implementation seems to be slipping.

There is also a feeling that the regime has started viewing transparency with contempt, as an unnecessary frill which can be sacrificed at the altar of achieving bigger, long-term political goals.

The Modi government should look into the mirror the CAG has held up, reboot, be humble and start working harder in areas it has failed in, instead of being in denial and trying to cover it up with self-aggrandisement. The UPA used to spit at the CAG reports. We know where the spit landed.

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