The Gauhati High Court directed the State Government to place the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report before the Public Accounts Committee to verify the contentions raised by the petitioner as regards embezzlement of large amounts of public money meant for public purposes.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Rashmin Manharbhai Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia disposed of a Public interest litigation (PIL) filed prayed for the following reliefs:
a) A writ in the nature of Mandamus by directing the respondents to cause a high level enquiry to find out the corrupt officials of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department of Assam who are involved in the corruption of misappropriating the Public money and to do the needful for punishment of such officials in accordance with law;
b) Direct/command the State Government officials/respondents to take into account the Audit reports of Accountant General (Audit), Assam and do the needful to fix responsibilities upon the erring officials of the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department of Assam and to recover the misappropriated money for proper utilization of the same in its true perspective;
c) Direct/command the state government (Respondent No. 1) to take into account of the representation dated 13.12.2021 submitted by the petitioner and do the needful for disposal of the same;
d) Direct/command the respondents, more particularly, the Chief Secretary of Assam (Respondent No. 2) to take cognizance of the complaint dated 13.12.2021 and do the needful to find out the officials involved in the corruption to punish them in accordance with law;
Upon cause or causes being shown your Lordships may be pleased to make the Rule absolute by providing appropriate relief(s) as prayed for, and/or may pass such other order(s), and/or directions(s), as your Lordships deem fit and proper in the interest of justice.
In the interim, pending final disposal of the instant petition the High Court may be pleased to direct the Respondent No. 1 and 2 to submit a status report before the High Court on the representations/complaints dated 13.12.2021 submitted by the petitioner.
A R Bhuyan , counsel for the petitioner has invited attention of the High Court to the fact that as per the report of the Accountant General (Audit), Assam, for the period from 01.02.2010 to 31.01.2011, certain irregularities have been flagged against officials of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Government of Assam, highlighting the audit objections so raised by the competent authority.
It was contended by Bhuyan that even though in the affidavit-in-opposition filed by the State respondents certain explanations are given, however, the same has to be examined and appropriate decision deserves to be taken by the Government and, as such, because of the large scale embezzlement of public funds the same requires to be investigated by an independent agency, as prayed for.
As against this, D. Nath, Senior Government Advocate, Assam, has contended that the PIL is not maintainable as the same is based on CAG report. Relying upon the judgment of the Court in a similar PIL filed by the very petitioner, being PIL 68/2021, it has been contended by the learned senior counsel appearing for the State respondents that the audit objections raised by the competent authority are required to be placed before the Public Accounts Committee. It is, therefore, contended that no further direction can be issued by this Court in exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
From the averments made in the petition,the Bench noted that the very basis of the petition is the audit report. The allegations of corruption and large scale financial embezzlement of public funds, as raised in this petition, are also based on such an audit objection itself.
At this stage, the High Court recalled the observations made by the Coordinate Bench of the High Court in Amguri Naba Nirman Samity vs. The State of Assam and Ors. (PIL No. 68/2021), which are reproduced below:
“5. Under the circumstances, we are also of the view that since the allegations of embezzlement are based primarily on the CAG report, the competent forum i.e the Public Accounts Committee may have a look at the same so that in case any illegality is found, necessary remedial actions can be taken by the competent authority.
- Accordingly, the State Government would cause these reports of the CAG, which according to the petitioner disclose embezzlement of large sum of public money meant for Social Welfare Department to the PAC for doing the needful.
- The State Government will accordingly cause the matter to be placed before the PAC within the period of 8 (eight) weeks.”
In an identical petition, being PIL No. 20/2021, the High Court has issued similar directions. It is a matter of fact that the allegations made in the present petition are based on CAG report and hence it would be appropriate to direct the State Government to place the same before the Public Accounts Committee , observed the Bench.
“Accordingly, The State Government is directed to place the CAG report before the Public Accounts Committee to verify the contentions raised by the petitioner as regards embezzlement of large amount of public money meant for public purposes. The State Government will accordingly cause the matter to be placed before the Public Accounts Committee within a period of eight weeks from the date of receipt of a certified copy of this order”, the order reads.