The then CAG of India has accused the CBI of not doing enough to prove the charges.
New Delhi: In 2010, when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came up with the startling revelation about the loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore in the 2G spectrum auction, it sealed the fate of the UPA government, already besieged by a series of scandals, including the one surrounding the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. However, nine years down the line, the charges around the 2G scam seem to have diluted, especially after the CBI trial court acquitted A. Raja and M. Kanimozhi, along with 15 others accused in the case.
Vinod Rai, the then CAG of India, however, is unmoved and unfazed. “Considering the fact that the 2G auction documents have not changed, and basing on those records, we would reach the same conclusions even today,” he says matter-of-factly. He instead blames the investigative agency, which in this case was the CBI, for not doing enough to prove the charges. “In his order, the trial court judge had expressed his dismay that he kept waiting for the CBI to bring evidences and witnesses, but that never happened… The judge also questioned the quality of the investigation.”
In an exclusive interaction with The Sunday Guardian, the former CAG also explains why the Congress continues to target him, how the Supreme Court’s “overreach” isn’t altogether a bad idea, and why the BCCI’s conflict of interest clause should not be applicable on iconic players like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman. Excerpts:
Q: Almost a decade after the CAG’s 2G revelations, especially after the CBI trial court’s verdict, would you still be reaching the same conclusion?
A: There are three parts to the entire saga. One is audit. The CAG does the audit by looking at government records and checking their veracity. Considering the fact that the 2G auction documents have not changed, and basing on those records, we would reach the same conclusions even today. Two, when the PIL was filed in the Supreme Court, it did an examination ab initio. It has been clearly pronounced by the Supreme Court in its judgement that it did not rely on the CAG report because the latter had been examined by the PAC. The court based its judgement entirely on the evidences presented by the witnesses. Investigation is the third part of the story. In his order, the trial judge had expressed his dismay that he kept waiting for the investigative agency, which in this case was the CBI, to bring evidences and witnesses, but that never happened. The court was, therefore, compelled to let the accused go scot-free.
Q: When I met a couple of senior Congress leaders after the CBI court verdict, they sought an apology from you and also said that you had worked at the behest of the BJP. Your response…
A: If you throw a stone at someone, then he is not going to take it lying down. He is going to retaliate. If the person has facts with him, he would retaliate with facts. Since the Congress doesn’t have facts, it is resorting to mud-slinging, calling me a stooge of the BJP or even charges me with currying favours with the ruling party.
Q: In the book, you write in detail about CBI. How do you think the parrot can be uncaged?
A: The onslaught on CBI started with Mrs Indira Gandhi. That was the time when the investigative agency started acting at the behest of the ruling party. Since then, the CBI continued to remain a caged parrot. There is a need to distance CBI from the government. The government has set up the Lokpal, which is a statutory body and not a Constitutional one. Instead of creating a completely new machinery for the Lokpal, one can set up an administrative wing under CVC and an investigative wing under CBI. That way by making the Lokpal autonomous and independent, the parrot can be uncaged.
Q: The Supreme Court is often accused of judicial overreach. Your response…
A: I am not justifying it, but to an extant I am fine with it. Let’s take the BCCI case. Cricket is not just a game for most Indians. It’s a religion. In 2006-08, a large number of scandals surrounded cricket. Many people approached the judiciary and several PILs were filed. The Supreme Court could not have avoided them, and appointed Justice Lodha and Justice Mudgal to inquire the matter. This case can’t be seen as an overreach as it concerned 100 crore of people. If the executive doesn’t show alacrity, then the Supreme Court has to step in. And it’s unfair to call it judicial overreach.
Q: You mention former RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao talking about attempts by the government to influence the RBI. In recent years, too, there were instances when critics accused the government of interfering with the RBI’s working.
A: The RBI and the government are working in the same kind of space, but their objectives are different. The RBI is always looking at controlling inflation, while the government is concerned with economic growth. Invariably, one agency will be trying to convince the other. RBI governors like Subbarao, Y.V. Reddy were capable leaders; they knew how to take the government along and move. With some others, it doesn’t happen at times, and thus the controversy.
Q: The Election Commission has lately been accused of favouring the government. Critics even charge it for not doing enough on EVMs. How do you see it?
A: The Election Commission, I believe, is the most credible institution in India. Its impeccable reputation is recognised worldwide. I would say things about the Election Commission. One, the election of the Congress’ Ahmed Patel in Gujarat saw how the EC held its ground on the issue despite the fact that both the Prime Minister and the BJP president hailed from Gujarat. Two, on EVMs, tell me a single party which had a resounding success in the election and then raised the issue. It’s only a bad workman who blames his tools. The third is the credibility of the institution. Just because a few differences among Election Commissioners came into public domain, it doesn’t mean all’s lost. In fact, it’s the sign of a healthy democracy. There should be differences and debates. My only submission is that such differences should be debated within the confines of the organisation. The minutes of the meeting should be recorded, but it should not be aired in public. For, any leakage affects the morale and the working of the institution, which sadly will get caught in the cacophony of voices.
Q: On being appointed as the chairman of the Supreme Court-mandated Committee of Administrators (COA) of the BCCI, you had said that you would like to be a night-watchman who would bat for a limited period and pave way for seasoned players. Please share your experiences there?
A: Initially, I thought I would be like a night-watchman, but I had to stay on because people who were with the BCCI for 15-20 years, refused to quit. I tried persuading them to become mentors, patrons and even advisers, thus paving way for younger people with fresh ideas and innovations to run the administrations. Cricket administration, for me, is like any other administration. Anybody involved with administration and familiar with the core principles of the administration, can handle it. Vikram Limaye, one of the members of COA, for instance, devised the ICC’s new revenue sharing formula that increased the BCCI share from $295 million to $405 million. And he did this in just five days.
Q: So, will COA quit immediately after the elections?
A: If elections happen on 22 October 2019, we will demit office the same day. There is no role for the COA after the elections. For instance, the DDCA had an administrator in Vikram Sen who demitted office the very evening when elections were held.
Q: Do you think the issue of conflict of interest, especially involving Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, should have been handled well?
A: The Lodha committee, in its recommendations to the Supreme Court, has listed about 20 examples of the conflict of interest. Here I must say the COA has no role to play on the issue. If there’s any conflict of interest, the BCCI has ombudsman and ethics officer to look into the matter. The current ombudsman, Justice D.K. Jain, is a retired Supreme Court judge, who also doubles up as the ethics officer. When the issue reached Justice Jain’s office, he came to the conclusion that there indeed was conflict of interest. He, being a lawyer, took a purely legalistic interpretation of the issue. When we were apprised of his decision, the COA felt that this was too narrow an interpretation; that Justice Jain pursued the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. So, we went back to him and asked if he would like to review the order. He said he didn’t have the mandate to review the order, so we approached the court for clarification. The SC is yet to give its verdict on the issue. We, however, believe that the conflict of interest clause should not be applicable on Sachin, Sourav and Laxman.