CAG, other watchdogs jump in as govt fails to deliver

Even as government and legislature have abdicated their responsibilities, other institutions and civil society have stepped in to hold up democracy and governance.

R Jagannathan August 07, 2011 09:56:23 IST
CAG, other watchdogs jump in as govt fails to deliver

When one institution falters or withers, others rise to take their place.

Over the last decade, India has seen two institutions decline - parliament and the executive. While aggressive politics has reduced parliament to a venue for staging loud slanging matches instead of being the place for debates and law-making, the executive has been diminished under the UPA with Manmohan Singh unable to function as the country's effective CEO.

Not only has the Prime Minister's executive role been divided between him and his party boss, even within the limited sphere of administrative action, coalition politics has circumscribed his ability to act - as the 2G and Commonwealth scams show. This is the result of having a nominated and unelected PM, where his moral authority to decide is under question.

However, even as legislature and executive have circumscribed themselves, other institutions have stepped into the breach. They include:

The higher judiciary:Despite a strong whiff of judicial corruption, the courts have enabled other watchdog organisations within

CAG other watchdogs jump in as govt fails to deliver

A view of the Indian Supreme Court building is seen in New Delhi. B Mathur/Reuters

government to function more effectively than before. For example, the Supreme Court's interventions have enabled the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to go after key politicians and businessmen in the 2G and Commonwealth Games (CWG) scams. The creation of Special Investigation Teams to probe the Gujarat cases and to chase black money are pointers to courts stepping in when the executive shirks its responsibility.

The courts have also turned the spotlight on themselves. It was a Delhi High Court judgment in the Right to Information (RTI) case which forced even the Supreme Court to ask judges to reveal their assets. With public scrutiny of judges increasing, former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan is under a cloud, and former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Sikkim High Courts, PJ Dinakaran, has resigned his office.

Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG): In recent months, some low-profile constitutional bodies like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) have come into their own. It is worth recalling that the whole 2G scam escalated when the CAG computed the notional losses to the exchequer. Not only that, a CAG report on the Commonwealth Games directly points a finger at the Prime Minister for appointing Suresh Kalmadi as chairman of the CWG Organising Committee - something unheard of in the past. The Delhi CM is also quaking under the heat.

Top officials in the CAG have not fought shy of stepping into the limelight and announcing their findings to packed media halls. CAG is not only going after the big scams, but the mini-scams in regulatory bodies like the Directorate General of Hydrocarbon. It's views on the "gold-plating" of investments by Reliance in the Krishna-Godavari gasfields has raised many eyebrows.

The Public Accounts Committee: One can say it was all about political gamesmanship, but for the first time ever the country actually wanted to listen to what the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had to say on the 2G scam. The Congress manufactured a plot to up-end the PAC's report, but that has not ended its ability to be heard and taken seriously. After all, even the PM volunteered to come before the PAC.

Civil society: The rise of Anna Hazare and his band of Jan Lokpal activists works like a middle class proxy for electoral politics. In the past, the middle class was content to stay on the sidelines of democracy as long as it was allowed to get on with its careers and come up in life.

Not any more. Hazare's movement signals the emergence of the middle class as a potent democratic force, and the private referendum on the Jan Lokpal Bill in Kapil Sibal's constituency of Chandni Chowk shows that democracy has grown new roots - and it is no longer willing to accept a once-in-five-years voice at the hustings. Civil society has deepened democracy like never before, though it is by no means certain it is going to stay the course or be there to fight issues beyond corruption.

The Lokayukta: After the ouster of BS Yeddyurappa as CM of Karnataka in the wake of the State Lokayukta's report on illegal mining in Bellary, the fight to create independent watchdogs on corruption and governance is gaining momentum. Gujarat is under pressure to create one, and the BJP is pressing for action against Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit on the basis of the Lokayukta report in the capital.

RBI & Sebi: As corporate wrongdoing plays a key role in promoting crony capitalism and driving even-handed governance off the road, some of the traditional institutions - like the Reserve Bank of India and Sebi - have begun acting tougher on corporate crime and shady practices. In the recent past, both the regulators have moved against the Sahara group's money-raising activities. Sebi has also moved against the big boys of the corporate world, including the Ambanis.

The Election Commission: The first institution to fully assert its independence in the wake of executive meddling was the Election Commission under TN Seshan. Thanks to his tough methods of checking overspending and tracking politicians' behaviour, elections in India have never been cleaner.

The media: The rise of the electronic media has both skewed and strengthened democracy. While many TV channels have been roundly criticised for conducting their programmes like kangaroo courts, the fact remains that aggressive TV journalism has become the bugbear of many politicians. The biggest example: the Gujarat communal flare-up of 2002 has become a huge issue for everyone because it happened at the start of the TV age. Without TV, it would have disappeared from view by now.

What the rise of new institutions means is that Indian democracy will be put back on rails, sooner or later.

Updated Date:

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