Autonomous Bodies

  • IASbaba
  • September 12, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive 
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. 

Autonomous Bodies

Context: The Union textile ministry recently abolished the All India Handicrafts Board, Handloom Board and the Power Loom Board.

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.

What are the objectives behind this decision?

  • It in consonance with the government’s vision of minimum government, maximum governance
  • It is a step in achieving leaner government machinery 
  • Government through these measures wants to introduce systematic rationalisation of government bodies.

What are Autonomous Bodies(AB)?

  • Objective: Autonomous Bodies are set up whenever it is felt that certain functions need to be discharged outside the governmental set up with some amount of independence and flexibility without day-to-day interference of the Governmental machinery. 
  • Establishment: These are set up by the Ministries/Departments concerned with the subject matter and are funded through grants-in-aid, either fully or partially, depending on the extent which such institutes generate internal resources of their own
  • Nature of these Bodies: They are mostly registered as societies under the Societies Registration Act and in certain cases they have been set up as statutory institutions under the provisions contained in various Acts.
  • Functions: They are engaged in diverse activities, ranging from formulating frameworks for policies, conducting research, and preserving the cultural heritage, etc. Institutes imparting technical, medical and higher education fall in this category
  • Governance: The apex administrative body of ABs is called governing council or governing body and is chaired by the minister or the secretary of the respective ministry.
  • Accountability: These Autonomous Bodies are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and the annual report is presented in the Parliament every year.

What are the issues of Autonomous Bodies that needs review?

  • Extent of Flexibility: Since these bodies are funded by taxpayer’s money, it is argued that they should follow the policies of the government and be accountable the way the government departments are. Others claim that they being “autonomous” have the right to make their own financial and administrative policies
  • The exact count of ABs is not known, with estimates ranging from 400 to 650 plus. Then, ABs employ a considerable number. For example, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, an AB under the ministry of agriculture, has almost 17,000 employees.
  • Lacks Uniformity in Recruitment: Unlike the government and PSUs, in which the recruitment rules are uniform and the recruitment is done by a centralised body such SSC, UPSC and the Public Enterprise Selection Board, there is no such body for Central AB recruitments
  • Accountability issue:  In place of Senior Ministry Officials, Junior officials attend meeting who lack jurisdiction to take meaningful decisions. Also, Some ABs are audited by CAG whereas many are done by chartered accountants.

Way Ahead

  • Proper Definition: A legal framework to describe an AB should be drawn up, which defines the boundaries of its working, its autonomy, and the various policies that it must follow. 
  • Rationalisation of their numbers: ABs that have outlived the cause for which they were established may need to be closed or merged with a similar organisation or their memorandum altered as per the new charter.
  • Uniformity in their Policies: In order to bring about uniformity in the policies, 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.
  • Changes in Functioning: To ensure the participation of ministry officials, committee meetings of similar ABs should be held together so that the appropriate authorities could provide meaningful suggestions.
  • Performance Audit of AB: CAG had done an exhaustive performance audit of autonomous scientific bodies in 2016, highlighting the gaps in their performance. Such a theme-based audit should be done for other ABs as wel

Connecting the dots:

  • Tribunals and their utility
  • Regulatory Bodies and their functioning 

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