Vinod Rai Speaking

Vinod Rai, former Comptroller and Auditor General, is in news again. Predictably, his book ‘The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper: Not Just an Accountant’ has ruffled many feathers. I spoke to Rai for Deccan Herald on Manmohan Singh, CAG and other topics. Excerpts:

Responding to your book, Manmohan Singh has said he did his duty.

A Raja was writing letters to him and it clearly indicated the trend of decisions that are going to be taken. Singh chose to respond in a way he wanted to. It is his discretion to determine for himself which way he will take decision.

In 2G or coal scam, do you think Manmohan Singh should also be investigated?

Certainly not. He (Singh) was sitting somewhere, some files came, some letters were written to him. There is no way, in which you can establish or even bring to his door or he was complicit with that it. He was not the one who decided that this is what I am going to do. Whereas I have written that in 2006 itself, Dayanidhi Maran had decided that pricing of spectrum has to be kept out of the GoM.

Is it that only Raja was responsible for the fiasco?

Basic culpability will have to be that of Raja because he took on to himself the onus of a decision, which normally should have gone to a GoM. It also cannot be denied that the rules and regulations, which were laid down to be followed, he did not follow it.

Then Union Minister Kamal Nath had warned Singh

This is one thing that we speculated at length even at the time when we were writing the report in 2010. Law Ministry, Finance Ministry and PMO all were advising. Kamal Nath wrote to him. Why he (Singh) did not do it? Singh has not come up with an answer. I do not think, with any certainty, we can say why he did not follow recommendations he was given.

VINODRAI-BOOK

Manmohan Singh has been singled out for criticism in the last three-four months. Is it fair?

I find that most unfortunate. A Prime Minister has 100 departments under him. He has 40 ministers under him. Each of these ministers must play their role properly. The fact is that the systems under him, those people were not playing their role correctly. That nobody seems to have been pointing out. Unfortunately, he is taking the hit for mistakes committed by others. I guess that is the misfortune of a leader.

How do you rate him?

I rate Manmohan Singh very highly. He was one of the main architects of the reforms that unfolded in 1991. In fact, it was application of his mind and knowledge because of which we are benefiting today. You and I will never be able to guess what were the compulsions operating on the leader at that point of time because of which he took the decision that he did take. It is very difficult for any one of us to pass judgements on anyone’s legacy because a leader goes through very testing times, very difficult times. But in 2004 or 2006, may be as a Prime Minister he could not prevail upon his other colleagues, in terms of implementing his policies or his experience or his recommendation. Large number of things may have gone wrong.

CAG report on Air India was damning for many.

Air India was not allowed to run professionally. Decisions that were taken were thrust upon Air India. How can a Board note say that a decision to refurbish aircraft was taken at the behest of the Minister? How can a Minister say that you refurbish the aircraft? It is a technical decision to be taken by the technically competent people.

Former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has threatened to sue you.

If he decides to sue me, I will have to face it because I have written what I have written.

CAG is accused of forcing a policy paralysis. Bureaucrats are afraid of CAG.

In April 2008, Manmohan Singh asked me to address civil servants on Civil Services Day and tell officers not to be afraid of CAG, CVC or CBI. There was fear. I did not create that fear. So it is a futile, defeatist argument to say that CAG created policy paralysis. It is an affront to the robustness of the Indian economy to say that three CAG reports or two SC judgements have created a situation where bureaucrats are unwilling to take decisions. It is trying to find a very lame excuse.

You also talk about CBI preliminary enquiry registered against you when you were CAG. Bureaucrats were also targeted.

I think anybody who is trying to target incumbent CAG through this methodology is absolutely puerile. Because you think, a sitting CAG will get cowed down by a PE. I mean, I have dealt with law, administration, courts, I know what can be the culpability that can be established against me for early release of an official. I knew it, went to then CBI Director, and said, let me see you proceed on this, I will fix you. I actually told him that. They (CBI) made a fool of themselves by targeting P C Parakh in coal scam case.

CBI Director Ranjit Sinha is in news for wrong reasons.

This is obviously the result of some intrigues. We do not know what the truth is. Sinha says the number of visits was exaggerated. I believe all the bureaucrats live in glasshouses. Every act of ours is under public scrutiny. We need to conduct ourselves so that we can withstand all scrutiny. So I think somewhere, even if he says the visits are exaggerated, something is amiss. (The meetings were) certainly not (proper). It is like I meeting a judge in whose court my case is being heard.

You are accused of taking undue credit for the work done by others.

They have not read the book. In the preface, I have said there can be no other professionally competent department than the Indian Audit and Accounts Departments. I have said these entire audit reports of which I am drawing is the product of their untiring efforts. I have even said, in any other dispensation, they would be applauded for their work. In this country, they are being called untrained. Probably because they were unfortunate to have me as their leader.

You also spoke about reforms in CAG.

If I ask Finance Secretary, a query how many times you have travelled abroad in 2013. He may chose to reply immediately, he may be a day or a month or not reply at all. All I can do is keep writing. Whereas if you attach Rs 10 and ask the same question under RTI, he has to give a reply in 30 days. Why not make that applicable to CAG also? Audit queries go unanswered for years. I had said do not wait for more than three months. If it does not come, then go ahead with the report. Let them face the brunt in the report where their input is not there.

(An edited version appeared in Panorama section of Deccan Herald on Sep 17, 2014)

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