- What are the Autonomous Bodies?
- Functioning of the Autonomous Bodies
- Issues related to Autonomous Bodies
Streamline the Autonomous bodies
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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. It is a bold step in achieving leaner government machinery and to introduce systematic rationalization of government bodies.
What are the Autonomous Bodies?
- 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.
- 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.
- These grants are regulated by the Ministry of Finance through their instructions as well as the instructions relating to powers for creation of posts and etc.
- 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.
Functioning of the Autonomous Bodies:
- 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.
- 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.
- Besides, the ABs have specialised committees such as the purchase committee, works committee, finance committee, with nominated ministry officials.
- These ABs are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and the annual report is presented in the Parliament every year.
Issues related to Autonomous Bodies:
- Unlike the government and the public sector undertakings, in which the recruitment rules are uniform and the recruitment is done by a centralised body such as the Staff Selection Committee (SSC), the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), and the Public Enterprise Selection Board, there is no such body for recruitments in ABs.
- As a result, the mode of recruitment and recruitment rules differs for each of these bodies, sometimes even across ABs within the same ministry.
- Even though the senior ministry officials are required to attend ABs’ committee meetings, they mostly don’t due to their busy schedules.
- They nominate junior officials who often lack the jurisdiction to take meaningful decisions during the meetings.
- As regards audits, some ABs are audited by CAG whereas many are done by chartered accountants.
- 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.
- Based on a laid-out framework, each ministry will need to undertake a comprehensive review of ABs under their jurisdiction.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A one-time performance audit of ABs should be undertaken by an independent agency. 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 well.
The range of institutions and their mandates will require discretion to be used in reviews. These bodies are funded by taxpayer’s money, they should follow the policies of the government and be accountable the way the government departments are. They being “autonomous” have the right to make their own financial and administrative policies.