Did the Supreme Court Get Its Facts Wrong on the CAG Report on Rafale?

Petitioners in the case and members of the public accounts committee allege that no such report has been made public or submitted to the parliamentary panel.

New Delhi: Shortly after the Supreme Court verdict on the Rafale controversy was delivered on Friday morning, one paragraph in the 29 page judgment – on the apparent CAG audit of the aircraft deal – attracted quite a bit of attention.

The national auditor’s report on the 36-fighter-jet contract has been a touchy political subject. In July 2018, the Narendra Modi government confirmed that the CAG was conducting an audit of the Indian Air Force’s capital acquisition system and that it would include the Rafale deal.

However, since then, there have been no updates on when a final report would be tabled in parliament. Last month, in November 2018, a group of 60 retired bureaucrats wrote to the national auditor complaining that it was deliberately delaying its reports on demonetisation and Rafale.

Which is why the Supreme Court’s observations on the CAG report surprised both petitioners and members of parliament.

On page 25, which addresses the debate around the contract’s pricing, the verdict notes:

“The pricing details have, however, been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor General (hereinafter referred to as“CAG”), and the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee (hereafter referred to as “PAC”). Only a redacted portion of the report was placed before the Parliament, and is in public domain.”

However, members of the PAC claim that they not examined or received any CAG report on Rafale.

In a Friday evening press conference, PAC chairman and Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that the claim made in the verdict was an “untruth”.

“When I heard about this I asked the Deputy CAG what is this, where has this come from, were my signatures forged? How can this happen? When CAG does not have it, how can it come to us?… Where has this report come from? Who gave it?… In fact, before the report is placed in parliament, no one even has the right to speak about its contents…. So this is astonishing, the PAC has been dragged into this there [by the court]. This is an untruth,” Kharge said.

The Wire reached out to two members of the PAC — BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab and Congress MP Rajeev Gowda — both of whom denied that the report had been shared with the parliamentary panel.

“Since I joined the PAC less than a year ago, I haven’t been shown any CAG report,” Gowda told The Wire, adding that a PAC official confirmed to him that there was “no such report with CAG” or the parliamentary committee.

It’s also unclear at the moment whether the national auditor has finished producing its report, whether a redacted version will be placed before parliament this winter session or whether the Supreme Court was referring to an altogether different CAG report.

In a statement put out on Friday evening, petitioner Prashant Bhushan stated that the facts in this regard were “neither on record nor factually correct”.

“Obviously this factually incorrect statement must be based on some communication (not on record and unknown to us) made by the government to the court. That the court has relied on such communication which is factually incorrect on 3 counts shows how dangerous it is for the court to rely on statements made in a sealed cover (not subject to scrutiny or verification) and give its judgement on that basis,” Bhushan alleged.