Manmohan ignored ruling on CAG’s rights
In 2005, Madras HC said watchdog could brief media
In questioning the propriety and legality of the Comptroller and Auditor-General holding a news conference on its 2G report, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ignored not only past precedents but also a court ruling upholding the CAG’s right to do so. In his interaction with a group of editors on Wednesday, Dr. Singh criticised the press meet held by the CAG in early January after the report on 2G spectrum irregularities was tabled in Parliament. He said: “It [has] never been in the past that the CAG has held a press conference. Never in the past has the CAG decided to comment on a policy issue. It should limit the office to the role defined in the Constitution.”
But a 2005 judgment of the Madras High Court, upholding the right of CAG and its functionaries to brief the media on the contents of reports prepared by them and presented before the relevant Legislature, leaves no ambiguity on this count. In P.G. Narayanan vs CAG (W.P.No.23408 of 2004  RD-TN 714), the High Court dismissed the contention of the petitioner, an MLA belonging to the ruling AIADMK, that the Tamil Nadu Accountant-General had ‘misused his authority’ by going to press on an audit report pertaining to the State. The court noted that the CAG had stated in his affidavit “that specific instructions have been given by him to all the Accountant-Generals (Audit) of the States to explain the salient features of the Audit Report to the Press to make the public know about the same after the Audit Report is placed before the respective Legislative Assemblies.”
The veiled criticism by the Prime Minister of the institution of the CAG reflects the unease within the government over the recent CAG reports raising questions of serious irregularities in several deals. The example of the CAG report on the telecom spectrum policy, which gave different estimates for the notional loss to the exchequer on the 2G front, illustrates the point best.
Besides questioning the correctness of the CAG in interacting with the media, Dr. Singh raised two other issues related to the institution. The Prime Minister said the CAG had no jurisdiction to examine issues on policy matters and also contended that the supreme audit institution of the country should take into account the ‘uncertain’ environment under which the government is compelled to take decisions.
“We live in a world of uncertainty and ex-post whether it is the Comptroller and Auditor-General, whether it is a parliamentary committee then they analyse post facto. They have a lot more facts which were not available to those who took the decision … We take decisions in a world of uncertainty and that’s the perspective I think Parliament, our CAG and our media must adopt if this nation is to move forward.” CAG sources declined to respond to the Prime Minister’s comments.
But speaking to The Hindu in the past, they rejected the allegation that the 2G report went beyond their mandate in any way.