It was a day of trial, in more than one sense, for Union Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) Vinod Rai on Tuesday before the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing the 2G telecom spectrum controversy. And, by all accounts, he did an able job in clearing the damage done yesterday by his erstwhile junior to the CAG report on the issue.
Yesterday, to the delight of ruling party members in the JPC and discomfiture of the opposition ones on it, the then director-general of audit, post and telecom, R P Singh, had said the CAG’s estimate of Rs 1.76 lakh crore of loss to the treasury through faulty/unethical government decisions had no basis. And, that he had been “forced” to sign the report, which had led to a political storm last year.
Rai had asked yesterday that Singh be present on Tuesday, to enable a comprehensive rebuttal of what the latter had said. PC chairman P C Chacko said there was no precedent for such cross-examination. Still, the CAG took up each point made by Singh yesterday and, according to many members, “demolished” these. “If R P Singh disagreed with the audit report, he should have taken it up with me. There have been other instances of over-ruling in the CAG and that has never been an issue,” the CAG replied on the point. Nor, he asserted, was Singh ever “ordered” to sign the final audit report, because the report was not in the latter’s custody. “The CAG had already signed the report; Singh had to counter-sign it, as that is the procedure,” Rai said.
As for the charge regarding the loss figure being thrust on Singh, the CAG said in the course of preparing the audit report, R P Singh had himself reached four different loss figures — Rs 2,645 crore, Rs 1.02498 lakh crore, Rs 65,000 crore and Rs 4.19 lakh crore. The final figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore was reached after detailed discussion on the basis of the findings.
The CAG referred the member to the Income Tax Act, besides noting that all the audit probes had anyway estimated a loss due to the way decisions were taken. As for the query on this not being the objective of the audit report, Rai noted he had the constitutional authority to decide what the aim of the exercise was, and did so after the first draft report.
Wasn’t it discriminatory to not audit the licence process from the time of the predecessor government, too, he was asked. To which the CAG replied that the department of telecom had only made available the documents of 122 licences given in 2008.
As for complaints of the figure of Rs.1.76 lakh crore loss hitting the country's image internationally, Rai replied that it was his job to audit what had happened, whether or not the findings hit the country’s image.
Earlier, there was a long and acrimonious face-off between ruling and opposition members of the JPC, which delayed the start of proceedings for two hours. As soon as the meeting started, Bharatiya Janata Party members and others from the opposition alleged the statements of Chacko, the JPC chairman, to the media on the proceedings were “biased and one-sided.”
“For two hours, there was a heated exchange of words between JPC members and there was complete disturbance in the meeting,” said a member.