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Autonomous Institutes Wary of NITI Aayog, PMO Proposal on Mergers, ‘Corporatisation’

The aim behind the NITI Aayog and PMO's plan is to reduce government expenditure on autonomous bodies. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: The review of the 114 autonomous bodies under seven ministries or departments, undertaken by the NITI Aayog and the prime minister’s office, has not gone down well with most of the institutions concerned. This review is part of the first phase of a drive to curb overlapping work and reduce the Centre’s expenditure, currently at over Rs 70,000 crore per annum on 679 such institutions.

While some of the organisations which are may be merged with others have not yet been intimated about the proposal, others have objected to the initiative.

Experts are also divided on the dividends such an exercise would yield. Some have expressed their reservations, stating that the changes may lead to a dilution of the purpose for which an autonomous organisation was originally meant. The merged entity, they feel, may be forced to play second fiddle to the organisation into which it merges.

The second phase of the exercise is scheduled for later this month and will propose the setting up centres of excellence and institutes of higher learning. The third phase will later cover ministries and departments as well as bodies not formed under the Societies Registration Act.

Some institutes not intimated about proposal

Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) Y. Sudershan Rao told The Wire that he was not aware about any proposal to merge ICHR, the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) and the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), all of which come under the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

“I have only seen a report in a newspaper about the issue but we have not received any official communication from the government on it,” he said. The report had stated that as per the proposal, the three institutes will either be brought together under the ICSSR or be brought under Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Reacting to the development, former chairperson of ICPR K. Ramakrishna Rao said the proposal to bring the ICPR under the ICSSR needs to be handled with caution. “In some ways it is good, in some ways it is not so good,” he said, adding that “it needs to be ensured that philosophy is not neglected.”

Stating that there was a purpose behind the creation of the institute to promote philosophy, Rao said there was a need to ensure that the goals and objectives are not forgotten. Sounding a note of caution, he said: “What may happen is that when ICPR would get merged with ICSSR, philosophy may get neglected because not many students may then opt for the subject. Therefore it needs special protection. I agree that there is no need to duplicate the structures and they can come together provided assurance is given that special funds are allocated only for the philosophy students.”

Institutes express reservation

While the Centre began the review exercise in January this year for institutes formed under the Societies Registration Act and 42 of them have been identified for merger as part of the efforts to reduce numbers, the plan has not gone down well with some.

The Indian Institute of Mass Communication, which the proposal wants merged with the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has expressed its reservations on the move. Opposing the idea of merger, it has stated that as per its mandate it performs various tasks in which JNU has no role to play.

IIMC has noted that it is the academy for the Indian Information Service, houses the community radio and community media empowerment centre, trains foreign journalists, is also the communication training centre for the armed forces, and has its own publication division and press, and therefore it would be inappropriate to treat it as just another institution distributing diplomas. Given all this, it has opposed its merger into the JNU Centre for Media Studies.

Lack of understanding worries institutions

While the idea behind the exercise may be to tackle the multiplicity of institutions, the organisations sought to be restructured are wary and have insisted that the proposal shows a lack of understanding on the whole issue.

As the responses of these organisations show, there was also no consultation before the proposal and it was only after the proposal was finalised that some of them were approached for their views.

Apart from the mergers, the proposal also envisages “corporatisation” of the Film and Television Institute of Indi, the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and the Delhi Public Library. The Centre is clearly eager to reduce its annual expenditure on these 679 autonomous bodies, which come under 68 different ministries and departments, but in doing so without adequate consultations it is feared that it may end up doing more harm than good.





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