CAG lens on natural resources to prevent any ‘windfall gain’
NEW DELHI: Assessing ‘windfall gain’, made a commonplace term by the coal scam, is back in currency and likely to be a permanent feature with the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) beginning the process of national resources accounting (NRA) that seeks tighter scrutiny and accounting of mineral and energy resources from the states. All states and UTs have been asked to submit their ‘assets account’ towards their mineral and energy resources for 2020-21 by March next year for the auditor to complete cross-verification of physical and monetary values of these assets. The exercise will involve verification of revenue earned by the exchequer through royalty from the extraction of mineral and energy resources, except oil and gas which are under the Centre, by private or public sector value and the actual revenue earned. A comparative study by the auditor will prompt each state on ‘windfall gain’ to private entities, if any, on account of lower royalty extracted/pilferages. The implementation of NRA has been taken up on priority as “a nationally important project” and a government accounting standards and advisory board set up in the CAG with this agenda came out with its first concept paper on NRA in July 2020. Last time, when the CAG had conducted a similar exercise (like the NRA) involving allocations of captive coal blocks, Cabinet ministers of the then UPA dispensation had publicly disapproved and questioned the auditor’s intent. A 2012 CAG report had estimated a ‘windfall gain’ of more than Rs 1.8 lakh crore to private and public sector companies that had been allotted captive coal blocks. Finally, a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe against irregularities in coal block allocations culminated in the cancellation of all allotments made between 2004 and 2011. In its ongoing NRA exercise, the federal auditor has issued a directive to states through a “template of assets account” asking them to “streamline and enhance their internal control mechanism on mining activities” that includes mandatory installation of automated e-permit system with bar-coding for verification at the check-post. This will enable real time information sharing with relevant regulatory authorities. The auditor has also sought to enact stringent penal measures against defaulting entities, including government departments and officials who fail to comply with these ‘stringent’ measures, not ensuring valid e-permits or royalty collection while allowing transportation. The next on the NRA list is accounting for water resources, land and forest & wildlife.