ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Policing Public Expenditure

If one wanted to assess, through a single document, the state of governance in India, from the financial angle particularly, one would not find a better alternative than The Activity Report 1998-99 of the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

For the last decade or so, the public in India had a rich repast of horror tales of scams and scandals at the higher levels of the union and some state governments. Cynics say that what appears in the public is the proverbial one-tenth of the iceberg. One need not question the quantity, but the fact remains that ‘something is rotten’ in the Indian state which may threaten the public’s faith in the democratic system of governance because of its inability to contain, far less eliminate, this lethal virus of wickedness and depravity in public life. What is at stake is not an issue of individual morality but the foundation of the popular representative system of government. It leaves one wondering whether the founding fathers of the Constitution provided for any institutional arrangement to prevent such defilement and contagious pollution of public office. Fortunately, they did. The organisation of the comptroller and auditor-general (C and AG) of India was set up as one of the main elements of the checks and balances system.

In British India, prior to the Government of India Act 1935, the secretary of state for India used to exercise strict control over the financial affairs of the then government of India. The auditor-general used to be appointed by the secretary of state. In addition to his responsibility to the secretary of state, he was an important part of the machinery through which the legislatures enforced regularity and economy in the administration of public finance (B Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution, 1968, p 412).

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