SC message to UPA: Don't mess with the CAG

Barely a few days after the Presidential Reference, the SC has sent an unambiguous message that the CAG should not be messed around with

FP Editors October 01, 2012 14:43:40 IST
SC message to UPA: Don't mess with the CAG

The Supreme Court has sent a strong message by throwing out a public interest litigation (PIL) against the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on Monday.

In the wake of the opinion offered by the Supreme Court on the Presidential Reference about whether auctions are the best way to allocate scarce natural resources, Messrs Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram were ordering champagne in the belief that the CAG had been put in his place over its 2G and Coalgate reports.

Both of them made it a point to suggest that the CAG may have exceeded it brief in indicating losses of Rs 1,76,000 crore and Rs 1,86,000 crore in the 2G and coal blocks scandals.

Among other things, the court noted: "The CAG is not a munim. He is a constitutional authority who can examine the revenue allocation and matters relating to the economy."

SC message to UPA Dont mess with the CAG

The Supreme Court has said that only Parliament could decide if the CAG had exceeded its mandate. Reuters

On the day of the judgment, Sibal said: “There is no constitutional authority to which this judgment does not apply and I am sure that all constitutional authorities will apply their mind to this judgment and proceed accordingly.”  His unmistakable reference was to the CAG.

Chidambaram said: “I sincerely hope that all constitutional authorities in future will bear in mind (the opinion of the Supreme Court) while discharging their constitutional functions.”

Well, Mr Sibal, Mr Chidambaram, the Supreme Court has spoken again. It has thrown out a PIL by one Rakesh Gupta saying the CAG had no mandate to comment on the government’s policy choices and trying to compute losses or gains on those choices.

The apex court bench of Justices RM Lodha and Anil R Dave said the CAG’s mandate could not be circumscribed by putting it into a narrow straitjacket. It could look into the efficacy and impact of government decisions.

If at all the CAG needed to be pulled up, Parliament could do so, the court said.

As Firstpost noted earlier, “the CAG did not transgress any constitutional norm or propriety. At best, you can accuse the CAG of activism. Nowhere did the CAG say that auction is the best way to alienate natural resources, nor did it venture into policy-making.”

“The only thing the CAG did in the spectrum case was to calculate a loss figure based on the prices fetched at the 3G auctions in 2010. And in the coal blocks scam, the CAG arrived at its “conservative” undue gain figure of Rs 1,86,000 crore not by taking any auction as benchmark, but by using Coal India’s actual selling prices. And even this conclusion related to coal blocks given to private parties, and not the public sector.”

The Supreme Court could have gone one better and forced the litigant to pay the costs. One wonders what public interest was served by this PIL, which tried to get the Supreme Court to rule on a constitutional authority merely for suggesting a figure for losses or undue gains. Even assuming the CAG was not doing its job, the only ground on which it could have been challenged was evidence of mala fide action.

Since that has not been anybody’s allegation, one wonders why the PIL was even allowed to come up.

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