Going berserk against CBI, CAG

Going berserk against CBI, CAG
Highlights

Going Berserk Against CBI, CAG. The NaMo-RaGa saga has assumed obnoxious dimensions. While Modi is almost on a daily basis inflicting the harshest violence on history, the Gandhi dynast is going ballistic with recommendations to Dalits to acquire escape velocity.

Why did he (Chidambaram) take on the CBI or the CAG? Why did he try to implicitly defend the government – not on substantive ground – but on the separation of powers? Did anybody question the authority of the government for having the exclusive prerogative over policy?

The NaMo-RaGa saga has assumed obnoxious dimensions. While Modi is almost on a daily basis inflicting the harshest violence on history, the Gandhi dynast is going ballistic with recommendations to Dalits to acquire escape velocity. But one must not think that all these are inadvertent Indian version of ‘Bushisms’; there is a pattern in the madness.

The orchestrated overplay of this political drama in the mainstream media is effectively shutting out serious discourse on the circumstances and challenges facing overwhelming majority of Indian people. And this is precisely to insulate electoral agenda from being sullied by ‘mundane’ concerns of the people! Unemployment, hunger, poverty, food inflation and the structural construct of corruption are ‘untouchables’ in the build up to the elections!

And if there was any doubt about the overall game plan of shutting out the people and their feelings from the electoral discourse, the Finance Minister has done everything possible to dispel that notion. The smart lawyer that he is, he is the past master of jugglery with words to create a smokescreen; this is to ultimately create utter confusion and defuse the focus.

He has come out with a gem - that the CBI should not mix up “policing” with “policy making”. And it did not end with CBI he went berserk against another constitutional authority - the CAG. He must have shown great restraint in stopping short of the judiciary!

While Chidambaram has been quite explicit in going hammer and tongs, the lead actually came from the apparently soft spoken Prime Minister who hinted that the prime investigating agency is on a witch hunt against the corporate bigwigs. With the naming of Kumarmangalam Birla in connection with the coal scam the Prime Minister’s discomfiture was palpable; perhaps, more so because he happened to be in charge of the coal ministry when the scam happened. And public disclosures about missing files have punctured the impeccable reputation of probity in public life. Therefore, Chidambaram had to come out with such gusto in defence of his embattled leader.

But Chidambaram’s statement demands a closer scrutiny. Why did he take on the CBI or the CAG? Why did he try to implicitly defend the government – not on substantive ground – but on the separation of powers? Did anybody question the authority of the government for having the exclusive prerogative over policy? In fact even an avid reading of the CAG report on various scams -2G Spectrum, coal mine distribution, airport privatisation and others would clearly reveal that the accounting watchdog was not questioning the government’s authority on policy making.

It had simply pointed out the deviations from the policy. The lack in transparency of procedures laid down by the government itself, led to huge drain of financial resources which would have otherwise reached the public exchequer. Obviously, the Finance Minister was trying to derail public scrutiny on the specific acts of omission and commission; not to speak of deflecting attention from criminality involved in most of the scams.

For example the 2G Spectrum distribution was not only about the pricing policy where the government allowed private corporates in the telecom sector control over scarce natural resources for peanuts- offering them in 2008, 2001 prices in the name of serving public interest; it was also about manipulating the first come-first served procedure laid down by Telecom Minister. Notwithstanding the purported ‘public interest’ which the government invoked stood completely defeated with the beneficiaries reselling those very resources for a premium and making a huge killing.

Obviously money lost to the exchequer did not get reflected in terms of any public interest gains. Similarly the coal blocks went to cronies who did not mine a single gram of coal; but selling them for a huge profit such handing over of coal blocks did not augment coal production which was the stated objective of the policy. This is of course, apart from the total lack of transparency in deciding the basis for awarding those blocks.

The CAG report on airport privatization brings out brazen violations of the purchase agreements which preceded the handing over of publicly owned airport assets. The collection of hefty user and development charges from the travelling public or using airport land for commercial development not envisaged in the original contractual arrangement were all outside the policy framework on privatisation of this infrastructure.

Therefore, it is not surprising that some of the criminal implications are now being investigated and obviously some of the trail is leading to the policy makers. It is but quite natural that in a Parliamentary form of democracy accountability of the political executive cannot be evaded. And Chidambaram by making his statement is attempting to browbeat the investigating agencies into holding back from what they are doing - and in most cases are forced to do - under judicial direction.

But this is only one side of the coin. While there can be no quarrel over the government’s prerogative over policy making; with the judiciary also quite often refraining from questioning - but that prerogative cannot be unencumbered in all instances. In fact, the judiciary has broken new ground in the 2G spectrum case where for the first time a constitutional void in defining natural resources was addressed by the apex court.

The judgement made it clear that natural resources belongs to the people of this country; and the government was not the owner - it was a mere trustee. Therefore, distribution of operational rights particularly for commercial profits would have to comply with public interest and go through transparent criteria. The failure of the government to confirm to such prerequisites, the court had cancelled 2G licenses. Therefore, policy is certainly condition precedent on the nature of the subject on which it is made.

Chidambaram gave away largest to Indian corporates in the form of taxes foregone to the tune of Rs. 5,73,000 crore in 2013-14 budget claiming that this will lead to better performance of the economy. The incentive will lead to bigger investments and bigger growth but that has not happened. On the contrary there is further slowdown. The Finance Minister’s response is for every rupee of deficit in revenue will see a commensurate cut in rupee of public expenditure.

So the clear message is the policy would benefit the rich and no one can question its validity! Therefore, to hell with auditors and investigators! Long live the establishment and the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and corporates. And let the victims remain insulated by disabling them from any discussion on their predicament. This is the message that is being sought to be put across.

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