The petitioner contended, as many government spokesmen have in recent days, that it was not for the CAG to comment on matters of economic policy. The SC had a sharp response:
CAG is not the traditional Munimji to prepare only balance sheets. It is constitutionally mandated to examine the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of the decisions of the government in using resources. If the CAG will not do this, then who will?This does repudiate the government contention, in the wake of the recent SC bench observations on the presidential reference, that it was not for the CAG to suggest auctions or estimate the losses incurred by not following the auction route.
How does one reconcile the SC bench ruling on the presidential reference with the SC observations on the PIL? Well, I can only attempt an answer. It is true that auction need not be the only method for the allocation of natural resources. The government need not adopt the method in every instance of sale of natural resources. However, if the government has adopted a different method, it is open to the CAG to comment on whether it was appropriate in that instance or not. And, of course, the SC has every right to examine whether any method adopted was mala fide or smacked of arbitrariness.
I have defended the allocation method adopted by government in the case of coal blocks. However, the CAG, it would appear, was within its rights to question the correctness of this approach and give its comments. As the SC has pointed out, it is for parliament to accept or reject the CAG's views. The procedure is for CAG reports to be examined by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee. The fact that CAG reports on the 2 G spectrum sale and on coal blocks have touched off a political furore and rendered the functioning of a parliament difficult cannot be reasons to ask the CAG to refrain from commenting on such matters. It is for political parties to get their acts together, observe discipline and ensure the smooth functioning of parliament.
It does seem to me that, between the two judgements, a fine balance has been struck. It is the prerogative of government to decide on matters of economic policy. Equally, it is the prerogative of the CAG to comment on the government's decisions.