At the time the Constitution of India was being framed, BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the drafting committee, stressed that he wanted the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to be a completely autonomous institution. “I am of the opinion that this dignitary or officer is probably the most important officer in the Constitution of India,” Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly in May 1949. “He is the one man who is going to see that the expenses voted by Parliament are not exceeded, or varied from what has been laid down by Parliament in the Appropriation Act. If this functionary is to carry out the duties—and his duties, I submit, are far more important than the duties even of the Judiciary—he should have been certainly as independent as the Judiciary.” Ambedkar went on to add that the institution of the CAG had not been given the same independence as the judiciary and that he felt it “ought to have far greater independence than the Judiciary itself.”
Nonetheless, the CAG, whose role is to audit the executive branches of the central and state governments, was conferred constitutional status. The institution’s ambit includes examining “the legality, validity, regularity, propriety, economy, efficiency and effectiveness of financial management and public administration,” as per Indian law. While often identified with the individual who heads it, who is also referred to as the Comptroller and Auditor General, the CAG is a massive institution with over forty thousand employees across India. Historically, the CAG has often brought out crucial information related to corruption scandals, such as those around the Bofors deal, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the 2G-spectrum case and the irregularities in allocation of the coal blocks for mining, among others. Besides looking at irregularities, the CAG has also thrown light on governance matters and decision-making processes. In recent times, however, the independence of the institution has been in question.
Over the last few years, a systemic slowdown of the CAG’s audits is evident. A large number of audit reports for the financial year 2018–19 and a significant number of audit reports for the financial year 2017–18 are still not in the public domain, even as we enter March 2021. Such delays are often caused by the late tabling of reports in legislatures by governments. However, an analysis of the time taken by the CAG in preparing the reports in recent years shows a worrying trend.