New Delhi: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has transferred officers, including three who were coincidentally involved with and in charge of two of the twelve key audit reports that were presented in parliament during the monsoon session.
These twelve CAG reports revealed corruption and irregularities in the functioning of several Union government ministries and departments. The Monsoon session of Parliament, where these reports were tabled, ended on August 11. The transfer orders were issued on September 12.
CAG reports have been of special interest after the UPA government came under fire for the “2G” and “coal block allocation scam” – which were revealed when Vinod Rai was the CAG, and which had serious consequences for the UPA’s credibility.
The Wire has learnt that two of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IA&AS) officers who were transferred were in charge of the audit reports that exposed corruption in the Dwarka Expressway project and Ayushman Bharat.
A third officer who had initiated the audit of the Ayushman Bharat report was also transferred.
According to order 1901 of the CAG office dated September 12, accessed by The Wire, Atoorva Sinha who was the principal director of audit, Infrastructure (PDA, Infrastructure), New Delhi has been transferred and posted as Accountant General (A&E), Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram in place of Sunil Raj Somarajan. Sinha was only assigned the PDA, Infrastructure post in March 2023.
The order adds that the additional charge of the post of PDA, Infrastructure will be held by Rajiv Kumar Pandey.
Atoova Sinha was in charge of the CAG report on highway projects under the Implementation of Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I (BPP-1) that found instances of irregularities.
The report found massive overrun costs in the Dwarka Expressway project and said that the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI)’s decision to opt for an elevated carriageway in the Haryana portion pushed up costs to Rs 250.77 crore per kilometre as against the cost of Rs 18.20 crore per kilometre approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
According to order 1902 of the CAG office, also dated September 12, Dattaprasad Suryakant Shirsat Director (AMG II), Director General of Audit, Central Expenditure, New Delhi “has been transferred and posted as Director (legal) in this office against an existing vacancy.”
The Wire has learnt that Shirsat was in charge of the Performance Audit of the Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana – Union Government (Civil) National Health Authority Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, that exposed corruption in the Modi government’s flagship healthcare scheme.
The order also states that Ashok Sinha, director general (North Central Region) has been transferred as director general Rajbhasha. He will also hold the additional charge of the post of director general (exam) in the CAG office “till further orders.”
The Wire has learnt that Sinha had initiated the audit of Performance Audit of Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana – Union Government (Civil) National Health Authority Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The audit report revealed corruption in insurance settlement claims. The report, among other findings, said that lakhs of claims continued to be made against some who had been shown as ‘deceased’ in the database.
The Wire has reached out to the CAG office for a comment on the transfers. These transfer and posting orders involving a total of 37 officers have not been posted online.
The CAG reports on the irregularities in Ayushman Bharat and the Dwarka Expressway project were in particular picked up by the opposition parties – including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – who accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of presiding over “scams”, demanding accountability from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At present, the CAG is Girish Chandra Murmu, who was appointed in 2020. Murmu is a 1985-batch Gujarat cadre Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, believed to be a trusted aide of both Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah. Prior to his appointment as the CAG, Murmu was the first Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir after the dilution of Article 370 and downgrading its status to a Union Territory.
What the CAG report on Dwarka Expressway said
The CAG report on highway projects under the Implementation of Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I (BPP-1) found huge overrun costs in the Dwarka Expressway project, which was prioritised to decongest NH-48 between Delhi and Gurugram by developing it into a 14-lane national highway.
The report said that the NHAI’s decision to opt for an elevated carriageway in the Haryana portion pushed up costs to Rs 250.77 crore per kilometre from the approved cost of Rs 18.20 crore per kilometre.
The report added that the NHAI board approved the Delhi-Vadodara Expressway with a civil cost of around Rs 32,839 crore, which was not included in the CCEA-approved list of Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I projects.
The report also found irregularities in the award of projects.
“Instances of irregularities in award of projects by implementing agencies were observed in clear violation of the prescribed processes of tendering, viz., successful bidder not fulfilling tender condition or bidder selected on the basis of falsified documents, award of works without there being approved detailed project reports or based on faulty detailed project report,” it said.
After the report was released, the AAP held a protest at the Dwarka Expressway and accused the Modi government of “breaking all records of corruption.”
The report was also used by the Congress to flag “scams” by the Modi government.
What the CAG report on Ayushman Bharat said
The CAG report on the Performance Audit of Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana – Union Government (Civil) National Health Authority Ministry of Health and Family Welfare – found several instances of corruption.
For the report, 964 hospitals in 161 districts of all 28 states and Union territories (UTs) were audited. Delhi, Odisha, and West Bengal have opted out of this scheme.
The audit revealed corruption in insurance settlement claims and found that in 2.25 lakh cases, the date of the ‘surgery’ done was shown to be later than the date of discharge. More than 1.79 lakh such cases were found in Maharashtra, for which the claimed amount was over Rs 300 crore.
Lakhs of claims continued to be made against some who had been shown as ‘deceased’ in the database.
The audit also discovered that 1.57 lakh unique IDs appeared more than once in the database even though the scheme stipulates that a unique Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) ID should be issued to beneficiaries once verification is complete.
After the CAG report was reported widely, including by The Wire, the health ministry on August 17 issued a press release that sought to fact-check media reports on the CAG report’s findings but did not cite a single specific example of the media falsely quoting the CAG report.
What other CAG reports found
Apart from these two reports, the ten other CAG reports also highlighted several other irregularities in Union government ministries.
The CAG report on the ‘Ministry of Road Transport and Highways Toll Operations of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in Southern India’ conducted on 41 randomly selected toll plazas across the five southern states found that in five toll plazas, a total amount of Rs 132.05 crore was collected from commuters in violation of toll plaza rules.
The report also found that the NHAI collected excess toll fees of Rs 22.10 crore from road users during 2017-2018 to 2020-2021 at the Paranur public-funded toll plaza.
The CAG report on the regional connectivity scheme UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik) under the Ministry of Civil Aviation found that up to March 2021, when UDAN-3 ended, 52% (403 out of 774 routes) of the awarded routes could not commence operations.
The CAG report on the financial audit of the accounts of the Union government found that the Ministry of Railways had incurred unsanctioned expenditure.
In the 2021-22 financial year (FY), the ministry had an unsanctioned expenditure of Rs 23,885.47 crore, encompassing 1,937 cases. In FY 2020-21 unsanctioned expenditure of Rs 8,127.97 crore was incurred by Indian Railways in 2,775 cases.
The CAG report on ‘Departmental Trading Units Including Supply Chain Management in Khadi and Village Industries Commission under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME)’ found that less than 20% of departmental trading units were operational.
The performance audit report of the Swadesh Darshan Scheme implemented by the Ministry of Tourism said that while the scheme was launched with an initial outlay of Rs 500 crore, the ministry continued to sanction projects and the amount sanctioned had exceeded Rs 4,000 crore by 2016-17.
The CAG report on ‘Role of Tea Board India in development of tea in India’ recommended that the Tea Board initiate steps to investigate the cases of ineligible subsidy payments as these indicate “corruption/ fraud”.
The ‘Compliance Audit on Finance and Communication, Union Government’ contains significant findings from the compliance audit of the Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and Ministry of Finance.
The report found, among others, that the Department of Posts (DoP) under the Ministry of Communication did not formulate a conservation policy of its own to meet the requirements of the protection and conservation of Heritage Buildings.
The CAG report on ‘Union Government, (Railways) Railways Finances’ has revealed that Railways incurred an additional expenditure of Rs 7,778.43 crore more than the sanctioned budget of Rs 5,7626.20.
The ‘Performance Audit of the National Social Assistance Programme – Union Government (Civil), Ministry of Rural Development’ found that funds meant to publicise the scheme were diverted for publicity of other schemes by the ministry.
The CAG report on the Union Government (Indirect Taxes – Customs) contains significant results of the Information Technology (IT) Audit of the Indian Customs Electronic Data Interchange System (ICES 1.5). The Audit said that the filing of custom duty refunds is being done manually and capturing and processing of refund claims needs to be automated on the lines of the GSTN (Goods and Services Tax Network) System.
This article was first published on The Wire.
Also Read: How Climate Change Exacerbates Inequality