The fear of audit

CGDA’s website says ‘audit-department’ existed pre-1748 for the three Presidency military forces. I have found historical evidence. The capture of Gwalior fort on a 200-feet-high scarped and isolated rock was a military feat. When all else failed, on August 3, 1780, Major Popham got made special set of cotton-stuffed-boots for a rigorously trained small team under Captain Bruce.

They climbed the fort-wall and jumped in noiselessly; quickly fought the guards and opened the gates for East India Company troops to enter. The fort fell without loss of any life. Popham was highly decorated and subsequently retired; but in final settlement, he found a hefty sum deducted. After much enquiry, he learnt, audit had objected that special cotton boots were neither in regulation nor was he the competent financial authority.

Even today, the Army fears the annual visit by auditors. Their initial ‘observations’ are on rough sheets for a discussion at sub-unit (Major’s) level; then the unit-QM (who, though a Captain, holds the key to all the ‘materials’). Some superintendents do insist on meeting the CO, to show their importance. ‘Observations’ can be nipped in the bud, before becoming ‘objections’. Auditors will themselves advise ‘how-to’, but for a consideration, that secret can’t be divulged!

Some audit processes are indeed amusing. Pensioners have to submit annual certificates during November of being ‘alive’. You miss your ‘date’ or the certificate, the pension misses you! Once, audit objected to high altitude allowance at a place, being a foot short of the defined height. The CO replied that when standing men fulfiled the requirements, the objection was withdrawn.

After WW-II, Britain took reparations from Japan and compensated British soldiers who had fought against Japan and the allies in Africa. But Indian soldiers were ignored. Our governments too did not, till very recently, as audit stated, “soldiers had fought for another government”! Again in WW-II, audit raised an observation on some accounting/consumption. The query escalated to high levels. When the Army indicated the ongoing war, no less a person than the equivalent of CAG in the UK promptly gave time to the chief to reply after the war ended.

Once in seven years, CAG-reports: ‘Test-Audit-Team’ visits. Mainly though clerks/assistants, they would only speak to brigade and higher commanders! Their ‘objections’ become ‘Audit Paras’ in CAG-reports to parliament. The juicier the find (like the electric carts in Chandigarh Golf Course allegedly meant for hospitals), the better the chances of a good ACR for the auditor.

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