India Collectively: Why does not the CAG have a look at its personal previous work?

It is just by wanting again at its personal historical past of audit findings that the constitutional auditor can draw consideration to coverage selections that had been flawed on the very starting, says Himanshu Upadhyaya.

23 August 2018

Final month  a brand new audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor Basic of India (CAG) was tabled in parliament. This stand-alone quantity comprises efficiency evaluations of assorted Nationwide Initiatives – irrigation schemes which had been declared by the Union Authorities to be within the strategic nationwide curiosity ten years in the past – for the interval 2008-2017. The chosen tasks had been to be accorded excessive precedence by Central authorities by way of technical and monetary help to make sure “early implementation and completion”.

What has truly occurred since that step was taken? Extra of the identical that one finds in lots of different tasks, whether or not they’re of nationwide significance or not. The CAG auditors discovered that the prices of those tasks had escalated by 2341 per cent, and regardless of this there have been shortfalls in precise progress starting from eight to 99 %. A lot for declaring these to be tasks of nationwide significance.

However then, the CAG has been publishing audit studies on irrigation tasks for the final 4 many years, and discovering roughly the identical issues repeatedly. Particularly, it was fairly clear in 2008 that accelerated funding alone wouldn’t do a lot to sort out the large delays in irrigation tasks.

Let’s return ten years, to grasp issues higher. Maybe the federal government hoped that by granting these tasks ‘nationwide’ standing, issues may proceed in business-as-usual mode, with undertaking authorities not complying with environmental legal guidelines and laws. Additional, the federal government could even have been attempting to affect public notion vis-a-vis the favored protests launched by affected communities in opposition to many of those tasks, on the grounds that the social and ecological prices of those irrigation dams far outweighed acknowledged advantages.

Such prospects come to thoughts as a result of the sorry arithmetic of irrigation tasks in India had begun to enter coverage discussions in 2004. In June that yr, the Planning Fee printed a report titled, “The Standing of Ongoing Main and Medium Irrigation Initiatives that spilled over to the Xth Plan”. The report identified that as in opposition to 20.2 million hectares envisaged to be irrigated by these 380 tasks, irrigation potential created by the top of IXth 5 Yr Plan stood at solely 6.937 hectares. Planning Fee report additionally estimated that regardless of the billions already spent on these tasks that spilled over to the Xth Plan, one other USD 19.6 billion was wanted to finish them.

The Planning Fee and the Ministry of Water Assets had by then already began whispering about granting a choose few tasks the ‘Nationwide undertaking” tag to be able to facilitate massive funding from the central authorities. We had referred to as out this coverage doublespeak in an article again then, “PC or PC? Who units the Coverage?” (see hyperlinks to associated articles in field)

What was additionally curious in 2008 was the truth that there already existed two strong efficiency audits on two centrally sponsored schemes within the Irrigation sector – one efficiency audit of the Accelerated Irrigation Profit Programme (AIBP), and a second one on Command Space Growth however the coverage discourse gave the impression to be refusing to pay any consideration to the messages rising from these efficiency audits.

The CAG audit report on AIBP – which examined the efficiency of the centrally sponsored scheme for the interval 1996-2003 – acknowledged, “The programme was based mostly on the premise that funding was the principle constraint and with an assured circulation of assets, (irrigation) tasks could be accomplished. Audit scrutiny revealed that regardless of AIBP funding of the 23 pre-Fifth Plan, solely three tasks had been reportedly accomplished as on March 2003”.

AIBP funds had been granted to 172 so-called ‘final mile’ tasks, and CAG audits confirmed that “regardless of spending Rs 13,823 Crores, solely 23 out of 172 tasks had been accomplished”. With out mincing their phrases, CAG auditors confirmed that irrigation potential coated underneath AIBP tasks was a mere 28 per cent of the goal (2840 thousand hectares out of a deliberate 10042 thousand hectares), and of this solely 11 per cent might be truly coated underneath irrigation utilized (314 thousand hectares). CAG report had additionally sharply criticized that nearly one third of the chosen tasks (57 out of 172) had not created any irrigation potential regardless of their inclusion underneath Accelerated Irrigation Profit Programme!

That was itself not the primary occasion of the CAG stating the apparent; the warning bells on what ails irrigation sector in India had been sounded even earlier by the CAG itself. Within the 1970s, the establishment had produced a stand-alone quantity that regarded on the efficiency of 16 main and medium irrigation tasks in command areas. That report nonetheless stays one among my favorites, regardless of the lengthy years which have handed because it was printed. I had come throughout this efficiency assessment whereas helping my pal Shripad Dharmadhikary of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra in 2003. I spent a number of hours sifting via the federal government paperwork on dusty cabinets the primary ground of JNU library and within the library of Indian Institute of Public Administration.

In 1999 one other efficiency audit report – this time, one which intensely scrutinised what plagued the centrally sponsored Command Space Growth Programme – entered public area. This audit appeared in a separate quantity that carried efficiency evaluations of 5 centrally sponsored schemes, and the auditors’ feedback on the CADP bumped into 25 pages of lengthy narratives.

What all of this implies is that it’s time we start to count on – and demand – institutional reminiscence in audit studies of the CAG. If the auditors would additionally begin devoting their time to check the sooner studies which can be related for the audit being carried out, their messages would emerge a lot clearer. If this technique of giving due references to earlier efficiency audits on the identical audited entity is adopted, there’s a good likelihood we will see how some coverage selections had been flawed from the very starting. The CAG efficiency audit of State Industrial Growth Firms follows this strategy; so there’s precedent for doing issues this manner.

Through the years, academicians and the media have indulged in never-ending hair splitting arguments on whether or not India’s constitutional auditor ought to be commenting on coverage making. Maybe that is past its mandate and constitution, however the message from the most recent efficiency audit is sort of clear – on the very least, CAG auditors should not hesitate to name out coverage selections that grow to be malafide from the very begin. If that metric is not adopted, the audits that observe aren’t possible to assist us right programs in public expenditure.

Himanshu Upadhyaya is Assistant Professor at Azim Premji College, Bangalore.

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