Here's the second of the twin seminal essays I wrote as an overture to my column 'India of C-A-G' in THE HINDU towards the end of the 20th century.
The published text contained some detailed information on the specific scope and processes of the CAG's audit, which I am skipping here (. . . . . . ), occasionally adding a phrase in square brakets for continuity :-
Glossary & annotations
C-A-G -- Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, a Constitutional authority.
British regime/Raj -- Political set-up in colonial India, from late 19th century to 1947. In Hindi, 'Raj' means (among other things) 'Rule' in a political sense.
Presidency -- This should have read 'Province'. (Please see PostScript below).
'Dak' pad -- 'Dak' means 'mail' in Hindi.
Peon -- In colonial India, unskilled helpers in Government offices were called 'peons', an expression of Spanish origin. In independent India, they are technically designated as 'Class IV employees' and are popularly known as 'messengers'.
Rs. 325 crores -- Rs. = Rupees. One crore = 1,00.00,000 [10 million]. One US Dollar = about 65 Rupees. So, Rs. 325 crores = about US $ 50 million.
17 November 1995
India of C-A-G
The mills of the C-A-G
"Although the mills of God grind slowly, they grind exceeding fine . . ."
I always recall those famous lines from Longfellow's poem Retribution whenever I reflect on the colossal organization of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India and its wide-ranging and far-reaching activities.
The main function of the CAG under the Constitution and an Act of Parliament is to audit the transactions of the Central and State Governments, and those of the autonomous bodies substantially funded by them, as well as their public-sector undertakings. He has also certain accounting and entitlements regulation functions.
Before India became independent, the Auditor-General -- as he was called in the British regime -- was not answerable to the People of India, and his loyalty was to the British rulers. His job was only to find out what, if anything, was going wrong in the Government's day-to-day financial affairs, which were not very complicated.
Government audit accordingly was a relatively simple matter those days, and it continued to be so well into the 1950s . . .[and was mainly concered with routine checks of expenditure on establishment and public works].
As the activities of the Central and State Governments grew rapidly in independent India, their expenditure expanded spectacularly. Various schemes began to be conceived and implemented under the Five-Year Plans for the welfare the people -- to generate higher levels of employment, ameliorate education, modernize roads and highways, improve irrigation, agricultural practices, health services, etc., provide subsidies for industrial development or export promotion, and so on.
From the early Seventies onwards, this kind of investigative expenditure audit became a constant preoccupation of the CAG. But that was not all, for his horizons were expanding on all sides. On a different plane, Audit had also started checking the receipts of the Government. Here too, the audit perspective widened as the receipts were progressively enlarged ; thus. not only were the actual tax collections checked against the dues, but the efficiency and soundness of the operations and systems also began to be reviewed. On yet another plane, the CAG started auditing the transactions of the public-sector enterprises, superimposing his own scrutiny on the usual verification of accounts by Chartered Accountants ; and this too is a well-established audit practice now. . . . . .
Then and now
In the good old days of the British Raj, when the concerns of Audit were far less, the Auditor-General and his senior officers in the filed apparently used to lead a very leisurely life. It was even said (and believed) that a certain Accountant-General of a Presidency, who was an Englishman, would arrive in his office on horseback, and would glance through a thin 'dak' pad handed over to him by his secretary or peon while he was still astride the horse near the gate. Maybe he would also sign a couple of letters sometimes without dismounting, and then he would ride away back home or on to the golf course! But today the volume of audit activity is so great that it has been found necessary to have two, three or even more Accountant-Generals in almost all the States [earnestly working full-time] . . . . . .
Considerable preliminary research is usually undertaken before commencing the Statewide and countrywide reviews of important schemes. Where the Government of India extends financial assistance to the various State Governments to implement Centrally sponsored schemes, the concerned audit officers in the Capital undertake pilot studies and prepare suitable guidelines for audit which the audit officers in the States broadly follow, subject to their own initiatives and innovations which are encouraged. The results of such investigations and further research in the field are consolidated in the CAG's Audit Reports on the Central Government, and are also featured in his Audit Reports on the respective States . . . . . .
On an average, the CAG issues about a hundred Audit Reports every year. On the Central side, there are about two or three volumes of what is called the Civil Audit Report, and also separate Audit Reports on the Railways, Defence Services, Posts and Telecommunications, receipts, public-sector undertakings and autonomous bodies . . . . . . There is an Audit Report on each of the 25 States every year, and in most States there are separate Reports on receipts and PSUs as well.
The CAG's organization (the Indian Audit and Accounts Department) has a network of . . . . [about a hundred offices, not counting their branches . . . . The staff strength is about 60,000 persons, and the annual budget is over Rs. 325 crores, or about US $ 50 million].
The time factor
It is often said by senior officers of the Central and State Governments that the CAGs Audit Reports tend to raise issues which are so old that they are not worth pursuing. There may be a small grain of truth in this assumption, but it is generally not valid.
Often it is very difficult for audit officers to gain access to all relevant information, because they encounter considerable all along the way ; it is inevitable that there should be a generous lead time for converting impressions into conclusions, especially for ascertaiing the views of the Government, which is vitally important in a precedural as well as ethical sense. Moreover, when schemes running for several years are reviewed, some issues relating to several preceding years are bound to figure in the Audit Reports. Such instances are often cited as cases of delayed reporting, which is very misleading.
It is true that sometimes there are undue delays in the preparation of Audit Reports by the CAG and their printing by the State Governments. There is certainly scope for accelerating things all round, and the CAG constantly strives to do so. However, his performance cannot be said to be slack in the long run. The quest for achieving better quality of audit and improving the audit officers' sensitivity too the Executives's genune constraints and compulsions is also a continuing objective of the CAG.
The really serious delays, which ought to create far greater concern, tend to occur in the pursuing of the Audit Reports by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Committee on Public Undrtakings (COPU) of the Legislature in most States.
Presidency, Province, and Puerto Rico
From my schooldays in British India more than 60 years ago, I've been under the honest impression that the colonial set-up just before India became independent in 1947 had consisted of four vast Presidencies (Delhi. Bombay, Calcutta and Madras).
But only this morning, checking the British background in Wikipedia before annotating the expression 'Presidency' in this blog, I made the shocking discovery that it was in the earlier days of the East India Company's administration that Presidencies had figured, there were seven of them and not four, and there was no Delhi Presidency at all ; and that under the British Government's rule from 1857 the major administrative units were called Provinces and not Presidencies. So how did I ever gain the impression that my father was an Executive Engineer in the Madras Presidency, as I've said in several contexts with conviction?
By the way, this revelation comes just a few days after I made an equally surprising discovery that Puerto Rico, which was hit recently by two furious hurricanes, is not an independent country in Latin America but just a just a 'territory' of the United States. Surprising because, as a frequent companion of my grandchildren who live in America, I happen to know the names of all the States by heart, and can even recite them backwards alphabetically from Wyoming to Alabama.
All of which only shows how imperfect our perception of history and geography can be, even in the case of our own native lands and the countries where our children live, leave alone the rest of the world!
Next : The 36th Chamber of Audit