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Finance Ministry to divest Wildlife Institute of India (WII)

Topics Covered: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.

Finance Ministry to divest Wildlife Institute of India (WII):


Context:

Finance Ministry is planning to divest the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) of its status as an autonomous body of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

  • This has triggered anxiety among scientists at the organisation.

What are the concerns expressed over this move?

The major responsibility of this Institute is to provide advice to MoEF based on scientific information on policy and management of the country’s Wildlife Resources. This role can only be performed and remains relevant as long as the institute remains a part of the MoEF.

  • Further, the government will cut funding to the institute by 25% every year, and it could become a ‘Deemed University’ engaged in teaching and research.

When and why did the Finance Commission decide so?

The move follows a review by its Expenditure Department of 194 autonomous bodies across 18 Ministries. Of them, 109 bodies must be merged into 26, and government must “disengage” from 23, one which is the WII.

What are Autonomous Bodies (ABs)?

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.

Why government is taking such measures?

Despite a laid out administrative structure in Autonomous Bodies (ABs), there are a number of governance issues that need review.

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.

Issues with autonomous bodies:

  1. Accountability: These bodies are funded by taxpayer’s money. However, there have been complaints that they don’t follow the policies of the government and are accountable the way the government departments are.
  2. Recruitment issues: The mode of recruitment and recruitment rules differs for each of these bodies.
  3. Non-Adherence to Envisaged Goal.
  4. No uniform audit procedure: Some ABs are audited by CAG whereas many are done by chartered accountants.

Suggested reforms:

  • A legal framework should be devised which defines the boundaries of its working, its autonomy, and the various policies that it must follow.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Collaborated Approach: 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.
  • Uniform Independent Auditing: Audits of ABs should be undertaken by an independent agency.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. About Wildlife Institute of India.
  2. Various autonomous and statutory bodies under the Environment Ministry.
  3. What are Autonomous bodies? Who constitutes them?

Mains Link:

Discuss the issues related to the functioning of various autonomous bodies and suggest reforms.

Sources: the Hindu.