By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Monday, August 21, 2017

Effective Audit Of Quality Calls For Excellent Quality Of Audit

ATTTUDES OF AUDIT . . .  ENVIRONMENT OF AUDIT . . .  QUALITY OF AUDIT . . .  Here's the last one of a set of three essays I wrote long ago on the character of Government audit practices in India  --  (please see the preceding posts for the other two)..

By the way, these were by no means the last words on the topic!  There were several other articles exploring those concepts directly or indirectly, in my column India of C-A-G  (1994-99) in the prestigious Indian newspaper, THE HINDU. 


Glossary & annotations

CAG (pronounced C-A-G)  --  Comptroller & Auditor-General of India, an independent audit authority, under the Constitution of India. 

Ahmedabad/Gujarat  --  Ahmedabad is the largest city in Gujarat, a major State on India's West coast.
Bombay  --  Anglicized name of the Capital of Maharashtra, a major coastal State adjoining Gujarat. (Now called Mumbai, its native name).

Indian Civil Service  --  In the colonial era, the top bureaucrats of the administration originally were British citizens belonging to the Indian Civil Service.  Progressively a few Indians were also enlisted in the ICS, conferring a glamorous status on them both in official and social circles. 

The Capital  --  New Delhi, in North India.

HQ  --  Headquarters.


7 February 1996

The quality of audit

Quality is a relative term.  Expressions like 'good', 'bad', 'better' and 'worse' all mean different things to different people, at different times or in different situations, whether it concerns the quality of a product, service or  performance.  It all depends on the standards by which one judges at any given time and place.  Obviously, the quality of the standards themselves is a relative thing, depending on who specifies them and how.  Thus, quality is always subject to different interpretations by different persons at different times and in different contexts.

Nevertheless, over a long period it is possible to evolve certain fundamental and widely-accepted norms by which to judge quality and to discern trends of improvement or deterioration, although it must be noted that even when quality shows a distinct improvement in the long run, there are bound to be ups and downs in the relative excellence in the short run.

Quality and constraints
This rule is universally valid, and the performance of the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India is no exception. The quality of his audit of government transactions has shown a progressive and remarkable improvement during the past three decades, well matching the spectacular expansion in the activities of various departments and organizations of the Union and State Governments.

The CAG's Audit Reports have been increasingly concerned with impartially critical evaluations of overall performance -- and, wherever possible, even of policy -- although they do mention many irregularities in isolation.  Successive CAGs have always been conscious of the need to achieve better results all the time, as can be seen from their observations not only in internal forums within their own organizations but in international audit conferences  as well.    

The preparation of the CAG's Audit Reports is an elaborate process which tends to take considerable time.  Major audit investigations often confront stubborn resistance from government officials in the field and in the Secretariat, and overcoming such resistance and gaining access to all relevant information is usually a time-consuming process.   

Further, it is an axiom in the Audit Code that the point of view of the Executive must be ascertained and considered earnestly before any comment is made in the Audit Report -- unless, of course, the other side refuses to respond to the auditors' queries and overtures (which is often the case in the States).  Usually much time needs to be allowed for these efforts also, even if there is eventually no response.  In any case the CAG has to line up indisputable evidence before he includes any information in his Reports.

The CAG's audit is naturally a retrospective exercise, always covering past events and transactions.  Obviously, with the procedures and safeguards also taking their toll in terms of time, the Audit Reports do often tend to raise issues which appear to be rather old.

Successive CAGs and their officers in the field have always been conscious of this inherent problem, and have constantly tried to expedite the whole exercise.  And in that process, they have often had to sacrifice quality.  Let me give you an interesting example from my own experience as a former officer of the Indian Audit & Accounts Service

Speed vs. substance

In the mid-Sixties I was working in Ahmedabad as a Deputy Accountant-General in charge of administration in the office of the Accountant-General, Gujarat.  The AG, Mr. P.Y. Godbole, was a dynamic and impatient officer who wanted to get everything done fast.  We used to refer to him as 'Mr. Speedbole' behind his back :  and I believe he knew it and liked it.

Those days the consolidated material relating to the State Audit Reports pertaining to a particular financial year (April-March) used to be sent to the CAG's office in the Capital after a whole year or even later. Thus the first draft of an Audit Report for say 1962-63 would reach the HQ only some time in 1964.  Editing by the HQ and getting the report printed by the Government press would take their own time, and it would be presented to the Legislative Assembly in late 1964 or even in 1965.

Now, Mr. Godbole resolved to accelerate the whole process in such a way that  the material for the Gujarat Report for 1965-66 (April-March) would reach the HQ before the end of December 1966.  If he succeeded, he would be the first AG ever to do so, and he was determined to achieve the distinction.

As I was looking after the administration, I was not directly concerned with the actual field work and the scrutiny of the results in the main office.  But I was a constant and captive witness to the extraordinary degree of pressure which the AG imposed on the officers conducting audit inspections, and on the Reports section in the office which was directly supervised by him.

It so happened that he did accomplish the mission, and the Draft Audit Report was ready for dispatch to the CAG's office on December 30.  As it would reach the HQ only in the New Year if sent by post, the AG issued an unprecedented sanction for the Audit Officer (Reports) to fly to New Delhi and deliver the goods in time.  So emotionally involved was Mr. Godbole with this adventure that he even took the astonishing step of going to the airport to see the AO (Reports) off! 

But what was the quality of that Audit Report?  It was a different story altogether.  Some of the material was incredibly trivial --  for example, there was a paragraph accusing the State Government of not salvaging the welcome banners used for decorating the streets during the visit of a high foreign dignitary to the State!

Mr. Godbole was subsequently transferred to Bombay, and was succeeded by a level-headed officer called K.C. Jain.  Next year Mr. Jain had to be absent on leave on the days the Public Accounts Committee of the State Legislature was meeting to consider the last Audit Report processed by his predecessor;  so he nominated me to represent him in that forum. giving me full freedom to depend on my own judgement. 

I recall agreeing to drop nearly all the audit objections which were discussed in the meeting  -- which attracted a grateful compliment from the Chief Secretary of the State Government (Mr. Gidwani of the Indian Civil Service) who was present!  And when I told the AG about what I had done, he was greatly concerned and tightened up the quality controls.

Quality and logic

To be sure, the above example did constitute an extreme case, and I mention it only because it is so amusing.  But many less hilarious instances can be cited where the auditors' attempts to adopt short-cuts in their anxiety to expedite things had led to very insubstantial issues being raised.
But over a period, many useful procedures have been devised by the CAG to accelerate the pace of audit without sacrificing quality.

For instance, it is now a standard practice for the field offices to send a continuous stream of draft material to the HQ in small batches at short intervals throughout the year, to be consolidated in the end -- usually well before the following December.

Admittedly some Audit Reports do still get delayed, especially at the stage of printing by the State Governments. 

But the main challenge faced by the CAG in recent years has not been posed by the risk of featuring dated material in the Audit Reports, but the need to ensure absolute logic in the conclusions drawn by him from the extremely massive information gathered in the course of audit inspections and investigations.

So voluminous is the audit activity today that the officers in the field do sometimes tend to feel overwhelmed, and the consequent tension often leads to logical flaws in the material processed.
The HQ has to be ever vigilant and must guard against this, and there has been a conscious effort to enforce superior standards of logic and presentation.  The CAG's quest for excellence, apparently, is a never-ending exercise!

It is necessary that Audit Reports continue to mention many routine points, so that minor irregularities do not go unnoticed and snowball into major losses ;  but the accent today is clearly on performance reviews.

Either way, what Audit is vitally concerned with is the overall quality of the Executive's functioning.  In the CAG's scheme of things, one might say, the quality of audit is ultimately a question of the audit of quality.


PostScript, 2017

Clever but not clear!

When recalling the essays, reviews and satirical sketches I had written 20, 30, or even 50 years ago as a journalist, I am not usually tempted to wish I had written something in a different way.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and here is one of them!  Reading this text carefully now, I get the impression that the last sentence sounds rather clever, but lacks clarity.-- ironically so, because it so closely follows an earnest reflection on the importance of logic!  I do wish I had written:-

Either way, what Audit is vitally concerned with is the overall quality of the Executive's functioning.  In the CAG's scheme of things, one might say, effective audit of quality invariably calls for excellent quality of audit.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Progressive Government Audit Practices, From Simple To Substantial And Sophisticated

In the preceding post, I had recalled an essay about the attitudes of Government auditors, which I had written in 1995 in my column India of C-A-G in THE HINDU.  It has stood the test of time well and seems to have considerable historic merit.  I had quickly followed up that article with a couple of others, on the environment and quality of audit and the evolution of refined Government audit practices in post-colonial, democratic India.  So here's the next text :-

Glossary & Annotations

CAG  (pronounced C-A-G)  --  Comptroller & Auditor-General of India.

British regime  --  19th/20th centuries (upto 1947).

SANCTIONS  --  In the Govt. set-up in India, 'sanction' means Govt.'s approval of a specific item of expenditure (on staff. equipment, etc.), entitlements (leave, loans, etc.), or projects, specifying levels or limits of funds provided (buildings, roads, development/welfare schemes, etc.).


10 January 1996

India of C-A-G

The environment of audit

As briefly mentioned in the preceding article (December 27), there has been a metamorphosis in the whole environment of Government audit in the past 30 years or so.  This was not caused by any sudden change in the attitude of the auditors, but has been the result of a progressive widening of their functions and a gradual but fundamental shift in their perception and outlook.

And this trend has materialized along lines parallel to the remarkable expansion in the Government's activities at the national and State levels in independent India.  When the Government had concerned itself mostly with routine tasks (as in the British regime), there was not much scope for Audit to undertake any substantial reviews of performance or systems :  but with the profuse growth of the Government's concerns, the audit activities also grew significantly in terms of volume, scope and quality.  

The increase in volume was a routine development.  The area-wise expansion of scope was marked by the introduction of revenue audit and public-sector audit when Mr. A.K. Roy was the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India in the early Sixties.  These new functions were consolidated by his successor, Mr. S. Ranganathan.  And it was during the tenure of Mr. A. Baksi for six years in the Seventies that Audit made a quantum leap in qualitative terms. 

When I joined the Indian Audit & Accounts Service (IAAS) nearly 40 Years ago, there was an important chapter on 'Higher Audit' in the CAG's Audit Manual.  This concerned the scrutiny of all sanctions issued by the Government -- which was considered to be such a special aspect of he CAG's audit that the Higher Audit Department (HAD) in the Accountant-General's office in every State usuaally functioned under the direct supervision of the AG, without the intervention of any Deputy AG.

The Superintendent in charge of the HAD was usually one of the most experienced and competent officers in the cadre of the Subordinate Accounts Service (SAS).  Invariably he was thought to be so efficient and outstannding on the basis of his previous track record that he continued to be rated very high in this special slot also.

But the HAD would normally produce no worthwhile material whatsoever for the CAG's Audit Reports, because its efforts never went beyond an intelligent reading of the sanctions.  All Government sanctions naturally tended to look reasonable on paper, for the simple reason that no sanction was ever issued without recording a 'prima facie' justification for it in a Secretariat file. 

The HAD would often call for the relevant records and peruse the original notes leading to important sanctions, but that hardly led anywhere.  If there were any serious flaws in any particular sanction, naturally they could not be located simply by reading the notes written for the specific purpose of justifying it! 

Any distortions which might exist could never be identified unless the auditors took the trouble of studying the whole background thoroughly and understood every aspect and nuance of the situation in which the sanction had been issued.  But the audit tradition did not envisage such research being undertaken, so the AG and his officers were no wiser after going through a Government file than before doing so.   

In due course successive CAGs began to notice and recognize the futility of according such a high-sounding title to a superficial scanning of Government sanctions ;  and they gradually replaced the concept of 'Higher Audit' with that of 'Efficiency-Cum-Propriety Audit', or 'ECPA'.  Nothing much came out of this either, because the old tradition could not be given up easily, and it was difficult to pin down inefficiency and impropriety by going through Government records in an unsystematic manner.

Research and reviews

But somewhere along the way 'ECPA' began to be expanded as 'Efficiency-Cum-Performance-Audit'.  So subtle was this shift in nomenclature that I do not remember exactly when and how it was effected.  But I do recall that as soon as the expression 'Performance Audit' started figuring in  the CAG's directives, the whole process of audit acquired a new and formidable dimension.  

For it was no longer a question of scrutinizing some of the Government's records in isolation :  one had to examine them in an integrated manner, sometimes in the light of overall knowledge of the context acquired from other sources.  And the new methods called for entirely new methods of scrutiny and assessment, involving sustained research and investigation.

Of course, this did not mean that routine audit of vouchers and other relevant documents could -- or would ever -- be given up :  for it did constitute an effective element of the existing system of checks and balances, and had necessarily to be undertaken for enforcing elementary discipline in public finance.

What the transformation implied was that special efforts also had to be made  -- adopting innovative techniques of audit -- for discovering how effectively public funds were being spent and how effectively public revenues were being collected.  These efforts manifested themselves in different forms, on several fronts.

For instance, the true nature of the huge subsidies sanctioned by the Government of India for promoting exports was assessed in the light of exhaustive market information gathered from relevant trade journals and statistical compilations.  On one hand, serious logical flaws in the Government's perception and arguments leading to specific sanctions of 'cash compensatory support' were pointed out.  On the other hand, the basic criteria adopted by the Government to justify such subsidies were themselves subjected to severe tests, and found to be very flimsy.  

Such exercises were extremely intricate ones which could be undertaken only by a few officers of the audit organization.  But an important new direction of the CAG's audit along which many intelligent officers could proceed took the form of overall reviews of the implementation of various massive development and welfare schemes undertaken by the Union and State Governments in areas like agriculture, industry, education, health care, family planning and employment generation.

Audit also showed increasing concern for evaluating the efficacy of systems, particularly in the collection of taxes and oher revenues.  And in the case of public-sector enterprises and autonomous bodies belonging to the Central and State Governments, overall appraisals of performance and the audit of specific transactions tended to receive equal attention.

Response and remedies

The response of the Government departments and organizations to the initiatives and overtures of the CAG's officers, both at the Center and in the States, has always been an important element of the environment of audit.
When Audit began to get a firm grip on the fundamental aspects of financial mismanagement or mischief, the Executive's resistance tended to materialize at the highest levels, making the auditors' task more and more difficult.  The CAG's organization had to adopt very intricate tactics to overcome such obstacles and gain access to all relevant information.

Sometimes the best efforts of Audit actually proved to be counter-productive.  When inherent weaknesses in certain existing patterns of heavy expenditure were exposed by complex audit investigations, the Government tended to dilute the basic criteria governing them, making value judgements even more elusive than they had been earlier.

The most striking example of this was provided by Mr. Baksi's powerful crusade against highly arbitrary export incentives.  The Government's response was to go on making the criteria more and more vague and diffused till a stage was reached when the sanctions became still more arbitrary, and Audit had to struggle still harder to come to grips with them.

A significant facet of the environment of audit concerns the attention paid to the CAG's Audit Reports by the Legislature and the remedial action taken by the Executive.  While these have not been too bad at the Center, they have been extremely unsatisfactory in the States.  This is a topic which deserves to be analyzed in a separate set of essays.

                                    (to be continued)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Attitudes Of Government Auditors : Tradition And Transformation

In the preceding posts I had recalled an important high-level discussion in which the seniormost officer of the Indian Audit & Accounts Service -- Mr. H.B. Bhar, Deputy Comptroller & Auditor-General of India, for whose inflexible passion for factual accuracy I had the greatest respect and even admiration -- went seriously wrong and made an incredible faux pas in terms of pure logic.

The subject of that discussion was a highly sensitive and intricate issue concerning the Government's massive export incentives, and the financial and moral implications of that mistake were enormous.  And it wasn't the only occasion on which Mr. Bhar had taken such a false step in a major context, presumably because of an inflexible mind-set he had inherited from a long and conservative tradition of routine audit in the British regime and in the early decades of independent India.

Those situations arose in the course of some extremely sophisticated audit investigations I was conducting as a senior civil servant.  But one doesn't really need to cite such complex and expensive issues in order to show how intrinsically the whole character of audit is conditioned by the rigid or rational attitudes of the auditors.  Even some simple scenarios can prove this basic truth, as I discovered quite early in my official career :-


Glossary & annotations
(in same order as in text)

British Raj  --  Popular bilingual expression denoting colonial India in the 19th/20th centuries (till 1947, when India became independent).  'Raj' in Hindi means 'regime'.

Executive Engineer  --  In the British regime, the basic administrative unit called District covered a much larger area than it does now ;  and there was only a single Executive Engineer in charge of all civil public works -- like roads, buildings, bridges and canals -- in the whole District. 

Simla --  Beautiful hill resort in the Himalayas, summer headquarters of Government of India in the British Raj -- now called Shimla.

Accountant-General  --  In the early days of independent India, when I joined the civil service, each State had only a single AG, who therefore had an imposing image in Government and social circles.  Later on, when the scope of Govt. audit went on expanding, the larger States began to have two or more AGs, which diminished the official and social status of them all.  

Gorton Castle  --  Magnificent New-Gothic building, which used to accommodate the summer headquarters of the Govt. of India in the British Raj.  Subsequently, it was occupied by the Accountant-General of the State of Himachal Pradesh, with a few chambers reserved for the IAAS Training School. 

IAAS --  Indian Audit & Accounts Service. 

Yarrows  --  A lovely mansion of the British type, housing the IAAS Hostel.

Jack and the Beanstalk  --  English fairy tale, about a young boy who climbs a sky-high magic beanstalk, and finds a castle above the clouds where he encounters a ferocious giant.

West Bengal  --  Large Eastern State in India. 

Calcutta  --  Anglicized name for Kolkotha, which is now the city's official name.

Treasury  --  District office dealing with all Govt. payments and receipts.  

DRAFT PARA  --  Not a paragraph really, but a draft narrative containing tentative audit observations meant for inclusion in one of the CAG's numerous Audit Reports.  It is invariably sent to the concerned Govt. Department for a rejoinder and/or discussions, which must be duly considered before the material is finalized for publication.  I have really no idea why it's called a 'para', because a draft para may contain any number of paragraphs, even a hundred if necessary!

Kangsabati Project  --  An irrigation project in West Bengal, with dam, reservoir and canals, for distributing water drawn from river Kansabati.

Bankura  --  District in West Bengal.

Gazetted officers  --  In the British and even post-British regimes, postings, transfers and other matters relating to Govt. officers drawing salaries above a specified level were/are notified in the periodical official Gazette -- hence the term 'gazetted officers'.

SANCTIONS  --  In the Govt. set-up in India, 'sanction' means Govt.'s approval of a specific item of expenditure (on staff. equipment, etc.), entitlements (leave, loans, etc.), or projects, specifying levels or limits of funds provided (buildings, roads, development/welfare schemes, etc.).

Maharashtra  --  Major Western State in India. 

Bombay  --  Anglicized name of cosmopolitan metropolis on India's West coast, now called by its native name Mumbai. 


27 December 1995

Of audit and attitudes

Recalling in recent weeks the substance of most of the topics featured in this column during the past one year, I couldn't help remembering some of my own varied experiences as an officer of the Indian Audit & Accounts Service.  This nostalgic sentiment marked a remarkable if gradual transformation of my whole attitude towards a civil service career in general, and towards accounts and audit in particular.

My true ambition when I was a student was to become a successful artist, writer and journalist.    But my father -- who had retired as an Executive Engineer in the British Raj -- had other ideas, and he saw to it that I wrote the civil service examination.  I was hoping to fail, and even tried to give some impertinent answers in the interview, but somehow the examiners seemed to like it, and one of them even kept smiling benevolently all the time.  And soon afterwards I was enrolled in the organization of the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India, as a probationer in the IAAS Training School, Simla.  That was in 1957.

Merely living in Simla for a whole year was a thrilling adventure.  The School, like the Accountant-General's Office, was located in an imposing building called Gorton Castle at the top of a magnificent hill ;  and the hostel for about twenty trainees -- which resembled an ancient mansion in England and was called Yarrows -- was on the rim of a deep valley.  Climbing up to the classes in the morning and again in the afternoon, I was always reminded of Jack and the beanstalk.  Life, in short, was very enjoyable.

But the curriculum was extremely drab and discouraging.  Constitution of India and Parliamentary Financial Control were  interesting subjects, but Fundamental Rules, Civil Service Regulations, Accounts Code Volumes 1 to 4, Audit Code, Audit Manual, and Book-keeping :  I could have found nothing more forbidding!

I failed twice in the departmental examinations held in the School, but had two more chances in the second year, when I was transferred as a probationer to the office of the Accountant-General, West Bengal, in Calcutta.  Sheer self-respect forced me to work very hard that year and pass the tests.  However, I was not very pleased when I became an Assistant Accountant-General in the third year in the same office -- although by the official and social standards prevailing those days, it was a prestigious and glamorous designation.

Negative spirit

To begin with I was asked to look after some treasury and public works audit sections, and the task was an endless ordeal, checking heaps of heaps of vouchers received in the audit office every month from the treasuries and PW divisions.  Every now and then I had to bulldoze the papers on Sunday afternoons, after spending an hour in a Chinese restaurant on the way and guzzling half a gallon of beer!

The attitude of my immediate boss, a Senior Deputy AG, was also not very reassuring.  One day he called me and said :  "Ramakrishna, look at these two cases in this old inspection report on the Kangsabati Project accounts. I want to convert them into draft paragraphs for the Audit Report.  Go and have a discussion with the Superintending Engineer in Bankura, and come back with a couple of drafts."

So I went on tour to the project site and met the SE as directed.  Now, this officer insisted that the two audit objections -- which concerned some infructuous expenditure -- were not justified at all because there had been certain extenuating circumstances  caused by unexpected floods ;  and he showed me some reliable evidence to support his argument.

The SE was an elderly person, and asked me about my background.  When I told him my father had been a civil engineer, he said :  "Young man, why don't you write to your father about these cases and find out what he thinks?  Then if he says we were wrong, you can pursue the objections -- otherwise, just drop them!"  

But I was already convinced that the objections were not quite fair, given all the facts ;  so I told him there was no need to trouble my father or anyone else, and agreed to close the cases.  What I didn't reckon with was how my boss would react.  When I went back to Calcutta and told him what I had done, he flew into a fury and gave me a severe dressing-down.

"What do you mean, you dropped the objections?" he raved, "I told you to come back with a couple of draft paras, and you have just thrown away the whole material!  How can you  prepare any case for the Audit Report if you behave like this?"

"But the SE explained everything convincingly, Sir!" I said.  "There was really no justification for those objections.  We can't include such flimsy things in the Audit Report, can we?"

But my boss was in no mood to listen to any argument, and expressed great displeasure.  The negative spirit which governed his whole approach gave me a severe jolt ;  and I was distressed to find later on that many other senior audit officers too seemed to have a similar perception of things.

Sanction vs. service

Take the case of even the Accountant-General, who happened to be a very liberal-minded and highly respected person.  In my fourth year I was posted as Assistant AG in charge of a set of sections auditing the salaries and other claims of gazetted officers of the State Government, and I had the privilege of  working directly under the AG without the intervention of any Deputy AG.  And another shocking experience was in store for me.

In West Bengal there was an unusual system of 'pre-auditing' Government expenditure.  There were special registers in which full details of the gazetted officers' credentials, postings and entitlements were noted, and their monthly salary bills had to be checked with the entries in those registers and cleared by the AG's office for payment by the treasury officers.

Now, there was a professor who was about to retire, and there was some confusion about the date of his superannuation because two different dates were somehow figuring in official records as his date of birth.  The State Government was still considering the problem, and meanwhile the professor continued to perform his duties although the first of the disputed dates had already passed.

The section officer put up a note saying that since there was a contradiction we could not authorize the payment of salary for the current month.  I did not agree.  I felt that since the officer was actually serving the Government during that month, his salary had to be paid ;  and that if the Government ruled subsequently that the earlier of the two dates was the correct one, it would have to sanction an extension of service to cover the delay in superannuation caused by the Government's own delay in resolving the issue.

Opposing the section officer's suggestion, I submitted a well-argued note to the Accountant-General, confidently expecting that he would approve my stand.  But the AG wrote an elaborate note in which he made some profound statements about the sanctity of sanctions, concluding that till the doubt was sorted out by the Government we could not authorize the payment of the professor's salary.

I asked for a discussion with the AG, and found myself at the receiving end of a pleasant but one-sided lecture about sanctions and their inviolable sanctity.  This episode left a bitter taste of disbelief and frustration in my mind, particularly because the AG did have a very liberal outlook but seemed to be overpowered by the formidable force of a negative audit tradition.

There was an interesting sequel to this story.  Several years later I was working as the seniormost Deputy AG in the office of the AG, Maharashtra, in Bombay ;  and an almost identical case arose, concerning a Government doctor who was on the verge of superannuation and had overshot the first of two conflicting dates.  There was no pre-audit system in Maharashtra, but the office suggested that the treasury officer should be told not to pay the doctor's salary till the issue was resolved.

And with great relish I over-ruled the proposal, recording a forceful note in which I argued that the sanctity of service was no less important than the sanctity of sanctions -- and that as long as the Government allowed the officer to go on working while it was wrestling with the problem, it had no choice but to go on paying his salary.

Changing environment

Meanwhile, the whole environment of Government audit in India was already changing in substantive terms.  Not only had the sphere of the CAG's jurisdiction progressively expanded (to cover Government revenues and public-sector undertakings), but there was an increasingly wider perspective in which the auditors were expected to organize their scrutiny of official records and evaluate their findings. 

And this trend would continue for more than a quarter-century, creating splendid opportunities for enterprising officers to undertake penetrating audit investigations and significant performance reviews.  I do look forward to sharing with the readers, from time to time, some of my recollections and reflections in this regard.


PostScript, 2017

I and the camera-eye

What I didn't disclose in the above article (and other similar ones in my column India of C-A-G) was my own vital role in bringing about the significant transformation in audit perceptions and the evolution of highly innovative and sophisticated audit practices, because my policy as a journalist was to introduce a personal element in my column only as an observer and not as an actor. 

Of course, there were some contexts (like the tobacco exports scene) where the dividing line tended to get quite blurred ;  but the Editor, Mr. N. Ravi, never chose to restrain me or even moderate my texts.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Mystique And Mannerisms Of The Dedicated Smoker

Talking in the preceding posts about my serious-yet-lively conversation in 1995 with the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India about tobacco exports and cigarette brands, I couldn't help recalling a hilarious essay I had written in THE HINDU more than 50 years ago, about the mystique and self-conscious mannerisms of the dedicated smoker.

Those were days when smoking, in the perception of well-educated and imaginative young men in India, was a stylish symbol of sophistication, and not a sinister, disaster-bound obsession -- and it was still possible to take a light-hearted view of things.

This essay was inspired not only by personal experience but also by powerful international literary and cinematic impressions   Therefore its perspective had a universal dimension, although its field of vision was restricted to the well-to-do sections of society and completely overlooked the widespread fashion of women's smoking in the Western world.

And of course, like most humorous essays cast in the classical mold, this one had its fair share of grains of truth as well as exaggeration :-


Sunday Magazine


The smoker sees the world through a cloud -- of his own making.  It's a blue and beautiful cloud, though, with a very thick silver lining to it.  He can look forward to pleasures which the non-smoking population knows nothing about.  Like the cosmonaut orbiting the earth in space, he looks at the world with a different perspective.  Like the spaceman, he faces dangers which can be disastrous.  But the smoker is courageous too, in his own way, and is prepared to pay the price of his adventure.

The smoker is a much-reproached individual.  People everywhere seem to be bent on thwarting his fundamental right to smoke.  Trains, restaurants, street-cars, there's hardly a place where he's given a free hand. Placards everywhere admonish him with a pitiless 'No!'.  Managements of cinema houses and concert halls, in particular, take an unholy delight in suppressing the poor smoker.  They're convinced that his sole purpose in life is to set fire to their property, and/or undermine the health of their patrons.  The smoker has to be shown his place, and the meekest usher manages to do so without meeting with any resistance.

Doctors, however, aren't so successful, presumably because they lack the support of the police.  The smoker is fed up with the spineless way in which he has to put up with the tyranny of law and order, and in his own house he would brook no opposition, not even his wife's.  He vehemently resents the interference of his critical friends.  But the smoker knows only too well that his case is weak.  The more addicted he is to his habit, the more clearly he can see it -- that's no doubt why the most outspoken advocate of smoking is not your determined puffer, but the one who likes to call himself a moderate smoker.

The latter does indeed go out of his way to establish the virtues of his cult.  Without any provocation he'll volunteer the information that smoking is good for the digestion, and that it perceptibly improves the appetite.  It's a tonic for tired nerves, a tranquilizer for a troubled mind. As for its evil effects, why, isn't moderation itself a sufficient guarantee against them?  The moderate smoker is ostentatiously proud of his own moderation.  He's quite sure he will never become an addict himself.  He sneers loftily at the diffident non-smoker, who, though tempted, is reluctant to touch a cigarette for fear of its becoming an obsession.  This frame of mind lasts as long as he manages to remain moderate.

The addict, by contrast, is rather subdued in his approach, and more or less on the defensive.  True, he might flare up if someone tried to hurt his feelings, but he rarely starts an argument himself.  He's all for peaceful co-existence.  So long as you don't force your opinion on him, he's perfectly willing to leave you alone and puff away contentedly at his cigarette chain or his pipe.  He knows life isn't going to be a bed of roses for him ;  and there are times when he wishes tea would smell like tea to him, and food wouldn't taste like fodder.  Often enough he's making an honest if futile attempt to cut down his smoking.  That's why, by and large, he isn't so keen on picking up a quarrel with the opposite camp. 

Not that the advanced smoker is all modesty : oh, no!  Your twentieth-century veteran has none of the rustic simplicity of the pioneer.  He likes to be noticed in company, and he's gleefully aware that he stands out from the rest in any gathering.  He tries to look glamorous in many ways.  He carries a smart tin of fifty cigarettes wherever he goes, and places it prominently in front of him whenever he sits down.  Or else, he keeps pulling out a fanciful cigarette-case or a glittering lighter from his pocket every other minute.  If he affects a pipe, he might make a great to-do about shredding the weed in his palm, and filling the magic bowl.  Back home, this gentleman always has two or three dusty, battered relics on his mantelpiece -- he might never touch them, but he likes to have them on display.  Still more sophisticated is the fellow who rolls his own cigarettes;  apparently he's a perfectionist in his own eyes, no matter how clumsy he actually is. 

But probably the biggest exhibitionist of them all is the cigar smoker.  He's a self-styled connoisseur who gives himself intolerable airs merely selecting a cigar from a lot already bought and dearly paid for.  Of course, other people draw their own conclusion about his taste!  With the devastating aroma he weaves around himself, he  intimidates not only all honest non-smoking citizens, but his fellow-smokers as well.  However, for all his tough and blustering exterior the cigar man is really a child at heart :  he seems to derive such a divine joy from sucking the cold end of his cigar and chewing it.

One often wonders why there's no National Association of Smokers, seeing that the smoker is so ubiquitous, and has so many grievances.  If there's a local union unique under smokers somewhere, I'm not aware of it.  Assuredly the smoker isn't clan-minded.  The only time he recognizes the brotherhood is when he spots one of them stranded without a match-stick.  Then the universal unwritten code of smokers demands that he should stop and offer his own match-box or lighter, or at least the stub of his lighted cigarette, whether he knows the person or not.  The same code also authorizes the stickless smoker to tap any other smoker on the shoulder and ask for a light -- class, creed or even nationality is no bar.  It's marvelous to see this unique understanding among smokers all over the land, though there's no tribal instinct in them.

Lighting the other man's cigarette is a problem which has baffled the smoker for generations, and doubtless it will continue to vex him for centuries to come.  "Thou shalt light thy neighbor's fag," bids the smoker's gospel, but it's easier bidden than done.  Usually thy neighbor puts out the match himself, with his nervous breathing.  In case he fails, a small gust of wind does it for him.  If he does manage to light his wretched fag, it's seldom before thy hospitable fingers have been duly scorched.  Often, after making several useless attempts to help him, thou hast no choice but to hand thy matches over with a sheepish grin.