Chidambaram hits back at CAG

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government on Friday took a subtle dig at the Comptroller and Auditor General  (CAG) and said that all constitutional authorities should learn from the Supreme Court’s clarification that auction could not be the only way for allocation of natural resources.

A day after the five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court clarified that auction as a mode not be conferred the status of a constitutional principle, the government claimed that the apex court’s opinion was a rebuttal of the way CAG had calculated the “presumptive losses” in its reports on allocations of 2G spectrum and coal blocks. 

“I sincerely hope that all constitutional authorities in future will bear in mind (the opinion of the Supreme Court), while discharging their constitutional functions,” said Finance Minister P Chidambaram. He was replying to a query if the apex court’s observation had vindicated the ruling coalition’s allegation that the CAG had exceeded its brief by questioning the government’s policy on allocation of natural resources.

Chidambaram and his colleagues Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal sought to interpret the Supreme Court’s opinion as a rebuttal to the audit body’s adverse remarks against the government policy of allocating 2-G spectrum licences and coal blocks without competitive bidding. “The implied benchmark against which loss or presumptive loss was judged was auction...the Supreme Court says that auction is not a constitutional mandate for disposing of natural resources...” said Chidambaram. “I think in a way all of us are in a learning process. I think the government learns and all constitutional authorities are also part of the learning process,” he added.

The CAG in its reports on allocations of 2-G spectrum licenses and coal blocks had pegged the “presumptive losses” of revenue by the government at Rs 1.76 crore and Rs 1.86 lakh crore respectively.

The BJP and rest of the opposition turned the CAG’s reports as a principal tool for targeting the government, both inside and outside Parliament.

The Congress and the government have been questioning the fundamental principle of calculating the “presumptive losses”. The ruling party has also been maintaining that the CAG had exceeded its brief by questioning the policy of the government. Reiterating that the Supreme Court’s opinion vindicated the stand of the government, Sibal and Khurshid pointed out that the court had in fact drawn a separating line between policy and its implementation. “The court’s decision reiterates the fact that the executive of the day has the right to form a policy and that the court will not review it – and so stands the same for any other constitutional authority,” said Chidambaram.

He, however, said that illegalities and irregularities in implementation of policies had always remained subject to scrutiny by the constitutional authorities and judiciary. “We have consistently maintained that if any irregularity or illegality is found in policy implementation, those should be corrected and those responsible must be held to account. We have never defended any irregularity or illegality but the problem was that people pointed at the government,” said Chidambaram.

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