7 PM Editorial |Autonomous Bodies and Their Reforms| 12th September 2020

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Autonomous Bodies and Their Reforms

Overview – There is a need to reform the regulatory bodies to bring them in line with minimum government, maximum governance.

Introduction:

The Union textile ministry recently abolished the All India Handicrafts Board, Handloom Board and the Power Loom Board in consonance with the government’s vision of minimum government, maximum governance. The ministry also changed the status of the eight Textile Research Associations to “approved bodies”, instead of the earlier “affiliated bodies”. Thereafter, the government withdrew the officials of the ministry of textiles from the governing bodies of these textile associations. This is in line with the rationalisation of human resources in various ministries. A task force was also announced to this effect in the budget speech of 2016. It was also contemplated that a comprehensive review and rationalisation of autonomous bodies will be done.

What are Autonomous bodies?

Ministries and departments frame policies and ensure their implementation. They are supported by a number of organisations such as autonomous bodies, statutory bodies, subordinate and attached offices, and affiliated organisations, etc. Their mode of establishment and funding, and functional autonomy differs.

Autonomous bodies (ABs) are a major stakeholder in the government’s functioning as they are engaged in diverse activities, ranging from formulating frameworks for policies, conducting research, and preserving the cultural heritage, etc.

Mode of Funding:

Most of the Autonomous Bodies receive money from the Central Government by way of grants-in-aid. The amount disbursed to autonomous bodies was Rs 799.55 billion in 2017-18, which, in 2019-20, was increased to Rs 943.84 billion.

Constitution of Autonomous bodies:

The apex administrative body of Autonomous bodies is called governing council or governing body and is chaired by the minister or the secretary of the respective ministry. Besides, the Autonomous bodies have specialised committees such as the purchase committee, works committee, finance committee, with nominated ministry officials. These Autonomous Bodies are generally audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the annual report is presented in the Parliament every year.

What are the issues with Autonomous Bodies?
  1. They are funded on taxpayers money and so there are calls for accountability. However accountability also compromises a bit on autonomy which is the reason they have been instituted.
  2. The exact count of Autonomous Bodies are not known, with estimates ranging from 400 to 650 plus. They also employ a considerable number of people impinging on the budget. For example, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Agriculture, has almost 17,000 employees.
  3. PSUs and government have recruitment bodies like UPSC and SSC, Public Enterprise Selection Board etc for recruitment. There is no such body for CAB recruitments. As a result, the mode of recruitment and recruitment rules differs for each of these bodies, sometimes even across Autonomous Bodies within the same ministry.
  4. Finally, there is an accountability issue.The senior ministry officials do not attend the autonomous body meetings due to lack of time. They instead nominate junior officials who often lack the jurisdiction to take meaningful decisions during the meetings.
So, what should be done to reform these bodies?
  1. A legal framework to describe an Autonomous Bodyshould be drawn up. It should define the boundaries of its working, its autonomy, and the various policies that it must follow.
  2. Autonomous Bodies that have outlived the cause for which they were established may need to be closed or mergedwith a similar organisation or their memorandum altered as per the new charter.
  3. A task force needs to be set up under a pan-Indian agency such as SSC or UPSC to streamline the recruitment rules, salary structure, allowance and perks paid to employees, and mode of recruitment.
  4. To ensure the participation of ministry officials, committee meetings of similar Autonomous Bodies should be held togetherso that the appropriate authorities could provide meaningful suggestions. Routine Work should not be part of the agenda.
  5. A performance auditby an independent agency needs to be done.
Conclusion:

There are Autonomous Bodies like The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training which works in the field of art education of teachers under the Ministry of Culture. This is not in line with governance good practices because integrating art education in school learning is under the Ministry of Education. These reflect the deeper malaise and the reforms that are required in the Autonomous Bodies.

Source: Hindustan Times

Mains Question:
  1. It is high time that the autonomous bodies are reformed to achieve the maxim of minimum government and maximum governance. In line with this, discuss the issues associated with autonomous bodies and suggest suitable reforms.
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