Editorial Articles

Issue no 32, 06-12 November 2021

Public Accounts Committee Its Role and Functions Dr Rup Narayan Das The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which was set up in 1921 in India is commemorating its centenary this year. It is the oldest Parliamentary Committee in the country. The fact that it has continued its existence all these years in spite of creation of a number of other Parliamentary Committees including the Departmentally Related Standing Committees in subsequent years speaks of its continued relevance in our Parliamentary system. The rationale behind the Public Accounts Committee can be found in Article 265 of the Constitution which provides that no tax can be levied or collected except by authority of law. Further, Article 266(3) of the Constitution envisages that no moneys out of the Consolidated Fund of India or the Consolidated Fund of a State shall be appropriated except in accordance with law and for the purposes and manner provided in the Constitution. To put it simply, no money can be drawn or spent by the government without prior approval by Parliament or the legislature of the State. The role and relevance Parliament grants hundreds of crores of rupees every year for meeting the expenditure of various departments of the government and makes specific appropriation for this purpose under different heads. Financial sanctions provide checks on the dispensation of public funds by the Ministries and it is the prerogative of Parliament to ensure that the sanctioned funds have been spent prudently, frugally following due diligence. However in view of its size and complexity of state activities coupled with dearth of time at its disposal, it is not possible for Parliament to scrutinise, if the sum approved has been utilised properly or not. It has, therefore, delegated the task of scrutiny and control over the public expenditure to three financial Committees of Parliament, viz, Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Public Undertakings Committee. The Public Accounts Committee examines the accounts showing the appropriation of sum of money granted by Parliament for the expenditure of the Union government, the Annual Financial Accounts of Government of India and such other accounts laid before Parliament with their respective Audit Reports as the Committee may deem appropriate. Composition The Public Accounts Committee consists of not more than 22 members comprising 15 members who are elected by the Lok Sabha every year from among its members according to the principle of proportional representation by a single transferable vote and not more than 7 members of the Rajya Sabha to be nominated by that House. The Chairman of the Committee is appointed by the Speaker, Lok Sabha from amongst its members. Chairman traditionally belongs to Opposition The PAC has to ascertain that due diligence is scrupulously observed in such public spending. It is significant to note that since 1967, an important member belonging to Opposition Party has been appointed as the Chairman of PAC. Veteran Parliamentarians like M.R. Masani, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jyotirmay Basu, Professor Hiren Mukherjee, Narasimha Rao, T.A. Pai, R. Venkat Raman, Jaswant Singh, Dr. Murali Manohar Joshi, just to name a few have occupied the position and discharged the responsibility with great distinction. In scrutinising the Appropriation Accounts of the Government of India and the Reports of the C&AG, the PAC have to satisfy: (a) That the money shown in the accounts as having been disbursed were legally available for and applicable to the service or purpose to which they have been applied or charged. (b) That the money shown in the accounts as having been disbursed were legally available for and applicable to the service or purpose to which they have been applied or charged. (c) That every re-appropriation has been made in accordance with the provisions made in this behalf under rules framed by competent authority. Role of Comptroller & Auditor General In discharging its responsibility to scrutinise the public expenditure and to ascertain if due diligence has been exercised in incurring such expenditure, the Public Accounts Committee is guided by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is regarded as the 'friend, philosopher and guide of the Committee'. Article 151 of the Constitution requires the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to submit its report(s) on the accounts of the Union and State governments to the President or Governor as the case may be who will cause them to be laid before the Parliament or the State Legislature. The Audit Reports, Finance Accounts and Appropriation accounts after they are presented to the Parliament or State legislature stand referred to the Public Accounts Committee, which takes cognizance with the reports of C&AG. The PAC has, however, inherent powers for critique of the nation's finances. So its mandate is broad and comprehensive; of course it should not override the jurisdiction of sister Parliamentary Committees. The Committee, on its own, on some occasions in the past initiated enquiries into various irregularities which were made public even though no formal Audit Report was presented to the House on the subject and it is within the power of the PAC to initiate such enquiries suomoto. Although the Committee is not concerned with questions of policy of the government, if the Committee finds during evidence that a particular policy is not yielding the desired results or is leading to waste, it is open to the Committee to report to the House that a change in the policy is called for Since 1962-63, the Committee has also started examining the revenue receipts of the Government of India. If any money has been spent by the Government on any service during the financial year in excess of the amount granted by Parliament for that purpose, the Committee examines with reference to the facts of each case the circumstances leading to such an excess and presents a report thereon to the House. In recent years, the activities of the government have increased many fold, particularly with regard to public welfare measures resulting in huge investment. More over due to technological advancement, the economy has become more complex. All these developments are challenges before the government, the Parliament and the Public Accounts Committee. Effectiveness The recommendations of the Committee have far reaching effect in toning up financial administration. Implementation of its recommendations by the government is watched seriously by the Committee through the Action Taken Report. Hence the Committee is held in high esteem and most of its recommendations are accepted by the government and implemented. (The writer is a retired Joint Secretary of Lok Sabha Secretariat and currently a senior fellow of Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration. E-mail: rndas_ osd@yahoo.com) Views expressed are personal Image Courtesy: Google