By Sunil Dang
Ever since the Narendra Modi government took over from the Manmohan Singh government, establishing checks on autonomous bodies has remained one of its prime focus. First it annulled the concept of the Planning Commission through inception of the Niti Ayog. Recently in this ongoing process, it granted autonomy to 52 universities and eight colleges. Now, the government of India has decided to review and liquidate some more autonomous bodies operating in various sectors.
Among 42 autonomous bodies set to be liquidated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government in the first phase of a review, about four are from the Health and alternative medicine sector. The New Delhi-based Central Medical Services Society, Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi, and Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh will be clubbed under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, while the National Academy of Medical Sciences will fuse with the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare. The government has taken up the task of reviewing 114 bodies, of which all except one fall under the purview of the Societies Regulation Act 1860. These bodies once removed from the list of autonomous entities will no longer receive funding from the Centre.
The Ministry of Ayush has 17 autonomous bodies, of which 12 will be merged into one to reduce infrastructure expenses, and seven of them will not get any backing from the government. New Delhi and Pune’s three yoga and naturopathy centres are to be merged. Two Siddha research institutes based out of Chennai, two Unani medicine research institutes in New Delhi and Bengaluru, three institutes of Ayurveda in New Delhi and Jaipur, and two institutes conducting research in homeopathy in New Delhi and Kolkata would meet the same fate.
Likewise, four organizations and seven cultural centers funded by the Ministry of Culture including the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, and the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara are to be merged into one body. The 114 autonomous bodies out of the 679 from seven ministries and departments were allotted Rs 72,206 crore in the annual budget.
However, the point which has been missing from this entire exercise is review of the government initiatives in regard to autonomous bodies. What has changed after the replacement of the Planning Commission from the Niti Ayog? What good has happened after the grant of autonomy to the educational universities and colleges? It is more than four years since Niti Ayog got incepted and its officials still seems clueless. If changing of the CEO was the elusive solution, then this exercise has already been done but in vain. I even tried to find out what has changed in the process of transition from the Planning Commission to the Niti Ayog, but even people commissioned in Niti Ayog are unable to answer my question.
Similarly, people in monetary and economic sector look at the autonomy of the RBI with much skepticism. The government may proclaim that the apex banker is taking its decision on its own, but clearly it’s a case of exaggerated claims. Glaring example was declaration of the demonetization. Technically, this announcement should have come from the RBI Governor as it’s his promise to pay the amount, which was printed on the demonetized tenders. But, to my surprise, even the media is not questioning the Modi government for sitting on funds earmarked for the autonomous bodies like Press Council, ICCR, Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Minorities etc. So, it’s high time for the Modi government to take lesson from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee who immediately intervened when such a malpractice took place at the Press Council and made sure that it didn’t happen again. These autonomous bodies are meant to fill the gap between the people and the government without any bias.