Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book review: Not Just An Accountant - conscience keeper’s account

It can be safely said that most Indians will take CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) synonymous with Vinod Rai. A question seeking former and current CAG names might meet with silence of ignorance. And this is only natural. For the man brought to the fore skeletons from the Indian cupboard of corruption like no other. And those skeletons that shocked a nation beyond belief, shook existing political systems and perhaps proved instrumental in humiliating fall of a regime. Not Just An Accountant (Rupa) is his testimony.

The life of a bureaucrat is interesting and Vinod Rai’s career begins in a tumultuous manner with delay in his cadre assignment. He narrates the tale wonderfully which hooks interest of the reader who gets a firsthand account of how government works. His long stint in Kerala, the various tribulations, the successes have been narrated in a simple and engaging manner.

But the crux of the book lies after that. The reader of this book certainly is looking for Vinod Rai’s version of the scams CAG unearthed, reported and stuck to their reports despite tremendous opposition from the powers that be. 2G, Commonwealth, Coal, Civil Aviation, Natural Gas, the scams that caught public imagination have been described at great length.

Vinod Rai has described these monumental corruption incidences beginning with basics, then going to the technical aspects followed by probing the reader. Though one might have read at great lengths about these scams, Mr Rai’s version is an education. He provides that essential CAG angle and makes it a point in every chapter to validate and laud the effort of this constitutional body which has been questioned. This questioning has been agonizing.

The various incidences that Vinod Rai mentions elicit various responses in the reader. Be it the audacity with which A Raja stuck to following a no auction policy, the creation of a body without any governmental control to seat Suresh Kalmadi, flouting norms to give Reliance more than 7 thousand square kilometers of area for excavation, buying aircrafts and selling them for a 5 times lesser rate, will shock the reader learning about these in detail for the first time.

During the release of the book the mention of role of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s in these scams was a talking point. Vinod Rai has made his observations of the PM’s role very clear. In the 2G scam, he writes how on two occasions, in response to A Raja’s letter, the PM replied with the text “I have received your letter of (date) regarding recent developments in the telecom sector”. A similar stoic silence in the Coal block allotment scam is mentioned. Overall the impression is sent of a PM who has acted like Dhritarashtra of Mahabharat.

The book is interesting for one interested in policy issues. A bureaucrat with 40 years of experience explains concepts of Principal-Agent problem, policy of past, shift in policy and obfuscation of policy. The book is an essential read for those who wish to get a comprehensive view of role of CAG, the technical aspects of scams from 2G scam to Reliance’s role in KG basin excavation, and aspects of an honest bureaucrat’s life.

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