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Competitive politics within the legislature is threatening to undermine the space and legitimacy of executive authorities to implement social and economic policies in the country. The Congress-led UPA may have been weakened to a point where any observation by the CAG becomes a millstone around its neck, even if the CAG is seen as excessive in the way he interprets the alleged lapses by the government. The danger is that any newly elected government at the Centre will start with a disadvantage — it must constantly bear in mind the CAG's new methodology of judging the role of the government in economic development. After all, maximising revenue from resource allocation need not, and indeed cannot, be the end objective of all government policies. This aspect of governance needs to be remembered even as the BJP publicly declares the sheer futility of the CAG report on coal being taken to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is headed by an opposition leader. By doing so, the opposition is inadvertently investing the CAG with a moral righteousness that tends to show other institutions, like the PAC or even Parliament, in a poorer light. This may not be healthy in the long run.
There is a larger politics at play that will come back to haunt any coalition government that is voted into power in 2014. If one carefully examines the prime minister's reply to the CAG's observations on various aspects of the coal allocation policy, it becomes clear that this is only the beginning of a long drawn out tussle between the statutory auditor and governments at the Centre and the states.
The prime minister has politely indicated that the CAG has no business advising the Centre and the states on the pace of implementing new legislation that affects the powers enjoyed by the states in our current constitutional framework. It is evident that the states would be loath to give up their discretionary power to recommend private parties for coal allocation. The chief ministers of all states with coal and lignite reserves had opposed auction as a method of allocating coal blocks. The manner of future coal allocations will have to be resolved politically. There is no other way of doing it in coalition politics. The CAG's homilies in this regard have really little meaning.
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