Context

  • The committee for Review of Autonomous Bodies (ABs), chaired by Ratan Watal, recommendations are not in public domain.

What are Autonomous Bodies?

  • An Autonomous body is set up by the government for a specific purpose.
  • It is independent in day-to-day functioning, but the government has some control over them.
  • Private enterprises are self-governing and independent of direct government influence or control.
  • If such body is a company, it gets regulated by the company law.
  • However, the government funds Autonomous bodies in some or the other way like revenue expenditure, capital expenditure, or both.
  • Therefore, if a review is being expected, there must be something beyond notions of self-governance and self-rule.
  • The Right to Information Act’s definition of “public authority” provides some inkling of what one is after.

General Principles to set up reviews on Autonomous Bodies

  • A review of Autonomous bodies should be the responsibility of the concerned administrative division of the ministry/department and they should be focusing on:
  • The objective for which the autonomous organization was set up
  • Review is required to check whether these objectives have been or are being achieved.
  • A check on relevancy so that whether the activities need to continue or not.
  • To check, if there has been a substantial failure in achievement of objectives by the body.
  • To observe that whether the nature of the activities is such that these need to be performed only by an autonomous organization.
  • To ensure whether similar functions are also being undertaken by other organizations, be it in the central government or state governments or the private sector and if so, whether there is scope for merging or winding up the organizations under review
  • To check, whether user charges including overhead/ institutional charges/management fee in respect of sponsored projects, wherever the output or benefit of services are utilized by others, are levied at appropriate rates; and
  • To guarantee the scope for maximizing internal resources generation in the organization so that the dependence upon government budgetary support gets minimized.

Inspiration

  • The United Kingdom had undertaken review of its 900 odd autonomous bodies.
  • On the basis of the review, the number was pruned by 285 institutions, resulting in annual savings of around $2 billion.

Need for setting up committee for reviews on Autonomous bodies

  • This committee can also be seen as an opening for unwelcomed, targeted interference in the matter of autonomous public institutions. However, this could be an important and beneficial initiative due to the following reasons:
  • Lack of oversight over the years.
  • Cumulative and spendthrift expenditure incurred by these autonomous bodies.
  • Rising irrelevance in the current socio-economic set up.
  • Owing to the specific implication of these autonomous bodies.
  • These are critical interface between the state and the market or the state and the public.
  • They include some of the key channels for publicly funded scientific and industrial research and innovation, teaching and training institutions.
  • Responsible for sectoral initiatives to develop and deepen market infrastructure in areas that will be important for creating more geographically dispersed employment.

Pros of having a reviewing committee on Autonomous bodies.

  • Clarity of terms of review, sticking to the terms of review help provide clarity and avoid feeling of dislike and nuisance.
  • Clarifying the doctrines used as foundation to detect institutions for closer inspection, the definition of poor performance and performance criteria that will be used.
  • Sharing the workload and the command to identify poor performance with Union ministries that autonomous bodies are attached to, with peer institutions to identify potential savings, and with the institutions themselves will improve the outcomes.
  • Reduces the workload of the committee and guarantee the completion of the task in a timely and effective manner.
  • Allow bodies to opt out from being a self-governing body to operate at a more monetary and administrative arms-length distance from the state.
  • This could help in narrowing down the review exercise and also increase the public sector savings.

Cons of having a reviewing committee on Bodies.

  • It needs to be ensured that the reviews are approved out in a manner convenient to the agencies.
  • Review of finances and information requests should not provide the reviewer with powers to harass and annoy.
  • The span of such bodies is extensive and hence the range of institutions and their mandates will require discretion to be used in reviews.
  • There cannot be a universally applicable approach to review all the bodies or all sectors.
  • The criterion to select and review the agencies cannot be fixed.
  • Much of the review for potential savings will have to be done on a case-by-case basis,
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