A third of the government-funded autonomous bodies may either be wound up or merged with others while several others may have to stand on their own feet, as the government is embarking on an overhaul of these bodies to cut wasteful spending. A committee headed by former finance secretary Ratan P Watal has found much scope for reducing these bodies’ flab, even as it is undertaking an administrative ministry-wise cost-benefit analysis of them. There are as many as 679 such bodies directly funded by the Centre now — up from less than 50 in 1950s — as successive governments have created new organisations aimed at promoting research, higher education, welfare and regulatory wherewithal. While a large number of these are contributing in good measure to nation-building, several have outlived their utility and become a drain on the exchequer.
According to the 2017-18 Budget, outlays to these bodies is a staggering Rs 72,200 crore, up from Rs 63,975 crore last year. Over 40% of the funds allocated to these bodies are used for payment of salaries. Official sources said the Watal panel, which includes representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, finance ministry, law ministry and the Comptroller and Auditor General, among others, has submitted an interim report to the prime minister recently. One of its recommendations, the sources said, is to merge 40 of the 114 institutions belonging to five ministries including the culture, sports, health and higher education with other similar-profile institutions. In the second round, the panel is currently scrutinising autonomous bodies attached to the departments of science & technology, scientific and industrial research, women and child development, biotechnology and school education. Once created, the entities keep on surviving, many of them not serving any meaningful purpose. Some bodies created during Asian Games in India in 1982, for instance, was shut down only recently.
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