As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faced criticism for debunking the CAG findings on the allocation of coal blocks, sources in his office said on Monday his statement in Parliament was on a report and not on the constitutional body.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) took pains in the evening to explain that his remarks that the Comptroller and Auditor General's report was "flawed and clearly disputable" for its assumptions and computations on presumptive loss of Rs. 1.86 lakh crore ($37 billion) and on auctioning the coal blocks since 2006 through an administrative action instead of a legislative backing, concerned the report and not the institution itself.
"The Prime Minister is not attacking the constitutional body at all. He attacked the specific report to counter it," the sources said, adding that the PMO will "not impute" motives to the report itself.
This clarification from the PMO came after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including L.K. Advani and Arun Jaitley, criticised him, saying he was targeting a constitutional body.
The PMO sources noted that these were the Prime Minister's view on the CAG's report, as the government felt it was clearly on "a strong footing" in countering the report when the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) examines the findings of the auditor.
"This statement is all within the ambit of what he has been saying about the CAG and this is a precursor to what the government will say before the PAC on the coal blocks allocations," sources said
As a reference point, they pointed out to a speech delivered in November 2010 by the Prime Minister on the occasion of 150 years celebration of the CAG, when he had talked about the CAG's work.
Quoting from the PM's speech then, the sources noted that he had mentioned that "the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General are taken very seriously by the media, by the public, by the government and by our Parliament. This casts a huge responsibility on the institution to ensure that its reports are accurate, balanced and fair".
Further quoting him, the sources noted that the Prime Minister also pointed out that "very often, there is a very thin line between fair criticism and fault finding, between hazarding a guess and making a reasonable estimate, between a bonafide genuine error and a deliberate mistake".
"As an important watchdog in our democracy, it falls upon this institution to sift the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish between wrongdoing and genuine errors, to appreciate the context and circumstances of decision making processes. This requires a very high degree of professional skill and competence," the sources said quoting the Prime Minister.
The sources pointed that there was a diversion from the tradition in the Prime Minister's statement on the coal blocks allocation report in that after it is remitted to the PAC, there is generally no debate in Parliament on the matter till the Parliamentary panel comes back with its own recommendations after examining the auditor's findings.