Shashi Kant Sharma appointed as new CAG

Team ZRG

Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma has succeeded Vinod Rai as the country’s next Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). He will be taking charge of the CAG from May 23, 2013. Expectations will be sky-high from Sharma given his predecessor’s term at the CAG office has been remarkable for proactively keeping a tab on the use of public money or resources by our administrators.

Under Rai, in fact, the CAG has done more harm to the government’s image than opposition and captured public imagination. The watchdog of India’s public exchequer through its incisive audit reports has exposed discomforting facts and posed piercing questions to the UPA government on distribution of key resources whether it was the 2G spectrum allocation or coal blocks allocation. Its reports have come as a shot in the arm for the Opposition and civil society protestors.

In recent years, the change in the audit office’s approach is quite apparent. From being a mere report generator, it has transformed into an overseer of public money. Not surprisingly, CAG reports on mega scams beginning from the Commonwealth Games 2010 scam to the latest Coalgate have provided the basis for a nuanced attack against graft which is more systemic than random.

A lot of credit to rejuvenate the institution must go to its outgoing chief Vinod Rai who took office in January 2008. Since Rai took over the reins of the office from VN Kaul, the auditors have been burning the midnight oil on reports issued by all government departments. Even a cursory glance at the CAG website shows that the department has gathered steady pace during Rai’s tenure.

The number of union audit reports issued by the CAG during NDA government in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 were 23, 19, 18, 20 and 23 respectively. However, the number of reports marginally increased in UPA’s first innings. While in 2005 and 2006 the department issued 29 union audit reports each, in 2007 the number of reports came down to 26. In 2008-09, the number further fell to 12.

The union audit reports reached its peak after Rai took the charge. The CAG reported a total of 23 union audit reports during 2009-10 which increased in 2010-11 to 36 and 33 in 2011-12. In 2012-13, 21 union audit reports have been issued by the CAG. Till date, the CAG website shows seven audit reports. Rai was featured as one of the Persons of the Year in 2011 by `Forbes` magazine.

While Sharma has plenty of experience of government functioning, the moot question is whether he will be able to sustain the vigour and sense of direction that Rai has infused in the CAG?