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Opposition leaders demand CAG audit of vaccination drive and exports

A. M. Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on May 18, 2021

Opposition members in PAC demand that the CAG start interim audit and submit its report

The Covid vaccination drive could soon come under the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) radar if the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by veteran Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, decides so.

Lack of efficacy

The Opposition members in the panel are demanding that the CAG should start an interim audit and submit its report to the PAC to ensure transparency in the process in the wake of complaints from Opposition-ruled States about scarcity of vaccines and lack of efficacy in the system.

Shaktisinh Gohil, member of the PAC from Rajya Sabha and former Chairman of Gujarat PAC, said the committee has the power to request CAG for special audit. “The committee can decide. But before waiting for the committee to meet, the CAG should start a special audit on the vaccination. This is a serious issue.

“The tradition is that on such important national issues, the CAG has taken up audit suo moto. The vaccination drive is a fit case for a suo moto audit of the CAG,” he said.

The BJP seems to have no objection to such an audit. “The CAG is an independent, Constitutional body. The subjects for audit are chosen by the CAG. We are always accountable. The work is defined under the Constitution,” said Bhupender Yadav, BJP General Secretary and member of the PAC.

‘Process can wait’

Another senior member in the panel, Bhartruhari Mahtab, however, said such a process can wait. “More attention should be given to fight the pandemic at this moment. Vaccination is not an issue of buying and selling. There’s budgetary provision of ₹35,000 crore for vaccination. It can only be audited after they money gets exhausted. It will be too early to ask the CAG to make an audit. The government has to provide all the records to CAG before the audit,” said Mahtab.

The CAG is auditing various activities and decisions of the Union Health Ministry and its wings at the moment. Though the auditor hasn’t started a special audit into the vaccination drive, sources indicate that such a process cannot be ruled out at the moment. The CAG, according to an official, doesn’t have a right for a special audit, without a request from the PAC or the government. For example, the decision to audit 2G spectrum auction was done after such a request from the PAC, then headed by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.

Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, Trinamool Congress member in the PAC, argues that the CAG should definitely get note of the situation and audit of the purchase and distribution of vaccines.

“According to reports, the Centre has spent ₹ 5000 crore out of the amount allocated in the budget. Public interest is involved in the matter. The CAG can hold an interim audit and submit an interim report to the PAC.

“Pandemic is not an ordinary issue. We are facing an extraordinary situation. Lakhs of people are dying. States and Central health agencies have been demanding augmented supply vaccines, medicines and oxygen. This is the need of the hour. CAG must come forward and audit the expenses involved in the purchase and distribution of Covid vaccines and medicines, also availability of oxygen, ventilators etc,” he said.

Audit of PM Cares

Ray demanded that the CAG must also audit PM Cares side-by-side. “A lot of money has been given by PSUs to PM Cares, a private fund. Public money is involved in this private fund. So, the CAG is competent to audit this fund. We do not have any intention to politicise this issue. An audit by CAG is a constitutional mandate.

“So, the CAG should suo moto take up this audit and apprise the Parliament. Common good factor must be considered by the CAG. There is no point in auditing the vaccination drive after three years. The misutilisation, if any, must be checked in the interim audit,” he added.

Published on May 17, 2021

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