Should CAG be auditing Padma awards? Given the abuse, why not?

The national auditor wants to look into Padma awards. It makes sense. For long these have been subject ti political whims and fancies.

Akshaya Mishra October 04, 2011 19:41:45 IST
Should CAG be auditing Padma awards? Given the abuse, why not?

When the  government conferred the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian honour of the country, upon NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, there were gasps of disbelief all around. Here’s a man once charge-sheeted by the CBI for defaulting on loans from the State Bank of India (SBI) and other public sector banks and convicted for misconduct.

The government was quick to dispel suspicion of foul play, saying it did a proper background check before proposing his name and he was in the clear. It went on to emphasise that Chatwal was an advocate of India’s interests in the US and had served to strengthen bilateral relationships between the two countries.

Should CAG be auditing Padma awards Given the abuse why not

Padma awardee Sant Singh Chatwal was once charge-sheeted by the CBI for defaulting on loans from SBI and other public sector banks and convicted for misconduct. AFP

Another worthy on the 2010 Padma awardee list was Ghulam Mohammad Mir, a reformed terrorist helping Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. He, according to media sources, ran a pro-government militia, the targets of which were often civilians.

Actor Saif Ali Khan too figured on the list with no significant contribution to the film industry. It caused a lot of heartburn in the film fraternity as there were far better claimants. In 2009, actor Akshay Kumar bagged the Padma Shri — to the surprise of many.

Brajesh Mishra, the former National Security Advisor, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan this year. This, critics say, was because he broke ranks with the BJP to support the government on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.

'Distinguished service’ is the common criterion for the Padma awards. However, the perception of  'distinguished' has been quite elastic for our rulers. The awards have often been given away as patronage, as expressions of gratitude for personal services and on whims and fancies of the government. On every Republic Day, the government creates pockets of disappointment and shock while announcing the awards. Many refuse to accept them, many ridicule them. And there’s the hint of a scandal always.

Now the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India wants to intervene. According to a report in The Indian Express, the national auditor, on 19 April, sought, among other documents, the rules and regulations pertaining to the awards, agenda notes and minutes of meetings of the Padma Awards Committee for the last six years, details of members of the committee for the period and records on investigations carried out before the awards were finally approved.

CAG, according to the report, also sought information on the procedure for selection of candidates for the awards, minutes of review meetings in the last 10 years to revise the criteria for the awards, year-by-year details of recommendations received by the ministry in the last three years, and complaints about the awards in the last three years.

What’s the CAG got to do with Padma awards? Isn’t it a body concerned with accounting only? The home ministry took that line while rejecting the request. It was backed by the opinion of Attorney General Goolam E Vahnavati. However,  CAG, The Indian Express report said, insisted that it had the power to carry out audit reviews of processes and systems involved in the finalisation of Padma awardees.

This could open a new front in the UPA’s battle with institutions. The CAG’s reports on the 2G scandal and the Commonwealth Games irregularities have already put it in a politically difficult situation. The unravelling of the Padma award’s secrets could land it in further trouble.

The government is already apprehensive of too many of its dirty secrets coming out through RTI applications. It has issued a circular to all states, ministries and departments asking them not to draw inferences or make assumptions in RTI replies which could be interpreted to its detriment, says another Express report. It cannot have the auditor breathing down its neck.

CAG could be transgressing its constitutional limits by seeking reports on the awards but its intention deserves accolades. The national awards have been abused by successive governments for far too long. There’s need for corrective action.

'Exceptional and distinguished service' to the nation cannot be subject to political fancies and used as an instrument of favour.

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