Demystfying CAG – courtesy PRS

PRS | Parliament Track | Primers | Making Government Accountable.

A primer on how CAG works. Puts in perspective the role and methods of CAG, and how reports are released. As a layman, government audit reports going back to government (finance ministry) is a bit weird – they will obviously reject whatever doesn’t suit them. Madhukar, are there any checks and balances, or does the fact that these are public reports act as a counterbalance? Also, how are appointments to CAG made – seems like this is one office that everyone discredits all the time?

Budget Session 2012 – Summary

PRS has a summary of the budget session 2012 here. Looks like the parliament did get some business done.

The Big Picture

Reproduced from: Authored by: Lt. Gen. SPM Tripathi (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, Former Member of Parliament.

This is a slightly longish post by blogging standards – and I will make up for it in my future posts. For now – you will just have to bear with me.

I have been a silent observer for the past month or two, reading and listening to the very intense debates that have been raging around the Chief of Army Staff’s actions. Firstly with regard to his date of birth, then his exposure of the bribery issue and finally about his letter to the PM.

These issues really relate to personal validation, corruption and structural faults in our systems. I won’t comment about personal validation – it is already settled, but I do want to discuss the other two.

A disturbing event happened yesterday: The TOI carried an article about a PIL being filed by the ex Naval Chief and the ex Election Commissioner against Gen. JJ Singh (the current Governor of Arunachal Pradesh), and his role in ‘orchestrating’ a certain ‘Operation Moses’ to ensure that Lt. Gen Bikram Singh becomes the next Chief. Coming from an ex Naval Chief, an ex Election Commissioner and three other ex Army officers lends it credence.

The Army Chief has removed his shackles and written to the PM directly because he was dissatisfied with the Ministry of Defense responses. There is nothing wrong with that. The article in the Times of India dated the 8th of April, quotes Mr. AK Antony ‘sympathizing’ with the Chief – but “his hands are tied”. Leakage of the letter is another matter – which should be inquired into and suitable action should be taken against the culprit(s). The real issue is not the leakage – it is the fact that the Chief of the Army Staff had to write a letter to the head of the government as a last recourse, which he is also a part of and the Defense minister ‘sympathizing’ with the Army Chief.

A bit of background:

The Army Chief has had a history of ‘inconveniencing others’. It seems that when he was to become an Army commander, he inconvenienced Gen. JJ Singh. When he was to become chief, he inconvenienced Gen. Kapoor and now – he is inconveniencing the Bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defense. While I am not close enough to the situation to ascertain whether the course is the correct one or not – I see nothing wrong with the inconveniencing per se – in fact, if it gets the right results – more such ‘inconveniences’ should be meted out.

We need to answer a very basic question:  “Is it wrong today to expose corruption?” If yes – then the Lokpal bill will never be a success. If it is not – then what’s wrong with the Army Chief writing to the PM if he is not satisfied by the response of the Bureaucrats at the Defense Ministry? The question that comes to mind after all this back and forth is whether the PM can or will do something about it.

In this day and age of scams, it is important for us to understand why scams take place in the Defense services in the first place? There is no doubt that a country India’s size has to be equipped with the latest and best weaponry. The problem is the following: The DRDO has not been able to make world class weapons indigenously. We are the largest importer of weaponry. Israel is the largest exporter. Both of us gained independence around the same time. DRDO cant give us world class products (The Arjun tank – India’s Main Battle Tank was inducted after 30 years) and yet has the ability to delay purchases (There is an article in the TOI dated the 9th of April about the same issue). The most potent mix for scams is time, involvement of multiple people and sensitivity (which is extremely high in the case of Defense systems).

We need to understand the root cause of the issues that have been coming up recently. The issue is purely structural in nature. In his book “Arming without Aiming”, Stephen P Cohen talks about the fact that the Indian Army is totally under the control of the civilians and those civilians are not competent to understand or to guide the defense minister in the functioning of the forces. I agree completely. An IAS officer cannot understand the nuances and requirements of strategic Internal and External defense. They haven’t dealt with it. They don’t understand the requirements of the jawans who are sweltering in the heat or freezing in Siachen. With all due respect to the bureaucrats – military strategy is best left to the Defense professionals.

The discussion is not about the Defense Minister or Gen. VK Singh. Both of them are extremely honest from all records and counts. Both of them seem to be on the same side. Then what should the real discussion be about? To my mind the right discussion regarding the Army and Ministry of Defense need only include the state of the Defense Forces, the need to redefine & align the role of the both agencies, and to redefine the method of early decision making and how the preparedness of our defense forces can be better than that of an overzealous neighbor. I shall not comment too much on “the orders coming from above” to Mr. AK Antony – as I suspect that the story is yet to play out completely.

Having served in the Army for 42 years and been a MP (Lok Sabha) twice, I understand the issues on both sides, and would like to propose a few measures to rectify the issues:

  1. Immediate establishment of the Chief of Defense staff as the main professional advisor to the Defense Minister: The appointment of the CoDS has been pending for more than six years. This person has to be from the armed forces (either Navy, Air force or the Army). Though the MoD and Defense services headquarters are said to be closely integrated, in actual fact – at every level, all actions required are again reprocessed in the MoD by civilian officers who have little knowledge, commitment of urgency to see the issue through to the right & timely conclusion. You cant possibly expect an low ranking IAS officer to understand the gravity of the situation that exists within the armed forces, or what’s actually going to transpire if war were to break out. Even if the position is filled by a civilian – get an expert to fill it, not a Bureaucrat who will treat it as another ‘posting’.
  2. Put up a system to indigenize equipment manufacture: DRDO and Ministry of Defense production has not yet been able to provide us with world class weapon systems, and unless they can devise a quick and effective way of doing so – we would have to rely solely on international purchases. My belief is that we don’t need to. We have the likes of Tata and Mahindra and other great Indian companies, who understand the nuances of working closely with the Armed forces. Co-invest with them, do joint research with them. The same way that the rest of the world does with its enterprises. Unless there is an involvement of private enterprise, there is almost no way that we will be able to scale and become self reliant. Joint ventures, PPP partnerships and other ways already exist. Use them. Become self reliant.
  3. The level of knowledge about the Internal and External security issues need to be raised in the Parliament: Even though the Defense budget is the largest component of the Indian budget, the MPs are mostly concerned with their local problems and therefore neglect knowledge about national security. Bring it out through healthy debates. Unless the parliament doesn’t know the real issues – it will always be these ‘sensationalized’ issues that are the center of India’s collective attention. The other thing to do is to have two year budgets for Defense rather than one year. This allows for proper deployment and management of the funds.
  4. A direct helpline for the PM: The PMO must have a general officer (from any of the defense services) on the staff for immediate advise to the PM on matters related to defense. It is all too often that statements are made without the full picture. This results in more issues rather than solutions.
  5. Up the qualification of the National Security Advisor: The National Security Advisor needs to be someone who is highly qualified and an expert in matters related to defense. He can be from any field, but an expert on external and internal defense issues.
  6. Finally – Don’t let Casteism raise its head in the Armed Forces: It is the only segment of Indian society that doesn’t bother whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. The Ministry and the Armed forces have a joint responsibility to ensure that the system remains a secular meritocracy.

The author can be reached at mrigank dot tripathi at gmail dot com.

Why Nations Fail

The Economist has a crisp review of the book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty”, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

The bottom line – Nations fail because their leaders are greedy, selfish and ignorant of history.

Sounds familiar? Perhaps worth a read Title. Youtube video here. And WSJ review here.

Indian Microfinance – Infographic from Legatum

Interesting infographic from Legatum on impact of AP ordinance on Indian microfinance industry.

Apart from effective blacklisting of millions of poor women in AP from access to private credit, the ordinance has impacted availability of credit across the country. All in name of protecting the SHG initiative, and backed by suspect claims damages that MFIs were causing.

Budget Session 2012

Madhukar has shared the bills listed for consideration and passing in the upcoming Budget session here.

Parliament is scheduled to meet for the Budget Session between March 12 and May 22, 2012. It will adjourn for a recess between March 31 and April 23 to enable Standing Committees to examine the detailed Demands for Grants. There will be a total of 35 sittings.

In addition to the President’s Address , the Economic Survey, the Railway Budget and the General Budget, as many as 39 Bills are listed for consideration and passing. The government plans to introduce 30 new Bills in this session .

Hey Ram: the death of our Gandhi

If you are an Indian, with your mother’s blood, tolerance is fed through your umbilical cord. Our 4500 years old history had witnessed administrative rules of many empires; that figure can outnumber the words written to justify the significance of Jerusalem. In all these years India has been absorbing everything that came in her way, adding every element of art, aggression, color, hatred, science to the culture. We have been like a Womb; embracing every sin and truth with love, large part of which is acceptance that comes with compulsion and duty. With the closed eyes.
To the extent that we have been highly accommodating to the corruption and the wrong deeds of the present democratic system which we like to brag with the sheer volume and not by character. We have accepted corruption like a polymeric limb. We are wholly aware about its jeopardy but we had not opposed it collectively and explicitly with the fear of derailing the system. And that is the reason we have never witnessed any anti-corruption rallies before; the fear of a ‘tougher’ day has always kept us away from the reprisal. And we learn to live with it like the way we are carrying the beliefs of our earlier rulers. The sheer weight of the patience and tolerance the Indians carry among them can put the world to shame and is the only common thing among the thousands of creeds and origins that keeps them together.
Independence might appear as a rebellion, but behind the scenes the India knew she was again impregnated with the remains of kingdom, pain of partition and power plays. The Independence that appears to be the result of the uprising of an Indian might be a power play of few good men. Everything seemed momentary, even the independence. As Nehru finished the ‘tryst with the destiny’, the India was again ready to embrace, the new philosophy, of a new ruler. Since then corruption has become a part of our culture. To an extent that when the Common Wealth Games scam was bigger even by the Indian standards, we accepted it with the fear of derailing the system. We suspend our concise while paying a bribe or taking someone’s share, because it works in our setup, in our era. We give bribe, We don’t vote, We don’t retaliate, We can live with inhuman setups. In a way we have accepted the virtual culture of this democracy. All these years, in spite of the sheer need of amendment in the system and in spite of constant conflict with our conscience for supporting corruption with both hands, we never hired civil disobedience. And one of the prominent reasons why Mahatma Gandhi stroked a cord with us was because of the irrational amounts of this tolerance and self-denial resting under our skin. Whenever he walked for Satyagrah, we followed him with our dark skin. Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagrah was carried by the civil disobedience and self -denial. So, for now Gandhi was left just as self-denial in us.
Anna Hazare, the Gandhian has polarized the country, both views want the same result of transformation of the current set up and not evolution. With the ‘I am Anna’ posters, Indians carry the anger that was entrapped in the self-denial for ages. Anna’s stiff not firm way of protesting might have created 1.2 billion opinions, but every opinion leads to single desire of an outlet; for what they have been holding for ages, to accommodate for their ‘less bitter’ future. The nation stands over the brink of a cliff, where jumping off seems to be the only choice to become free of the guilt and disease. As Indians we have never settled at a threshold, we have seen the bottom to be left with only one option. To come out. To overflow. With self-proclaimed shrewd, stranded government and inexorable, tired Anna, Indians would cross the barriers. Might not with a stick but with the will. The World is yet to see how this revolution transforms India, but Anna, the Gandhian has slayed the remains of Gandhi in us. May be, our self-denial has already said, “Hey Ram!”

Lokpal Bill Resource Page

PRS has put together a resource page on the Lok Pal Bill (pl see )

The page contains all previous Lok Pal Bills that were introduced in Parliament, Standing Committee reports on the Bill, state Lok Ayukta Acts, the two current versions of the Bill, and some context, data, and analysis.

You might also find this link on timeline and Lok Pal cost estimates useful.

Courtesy – C V Madhukar

The myth of the astute voter

Business standard has an interesting article co-authored by Praveen around the achilles heel of democracy – an informed voter.

Gurgaon Councillor Elections – Nisha wins

Nisha has won her election for MCG Ward 30. Congratulations to her, and everyone who supported this dream of an “outsider” making a mark. Time to deliver! (more on

Nisha’s victory was a revelation to me personally in many senses. The rural turnout of 92% versus urban under 50%; the block voting from rural areas for a single candidate; but against these odds, the ability for a first timer to win reinforced my faith in our institution of democracy. Hopefully, Nisha can help fulfill expectations of both those blocks.

And to other people passionate about making a change, but feeling left outside the system, “Yes, you can!”