Dehradun: The Union finance ministry has asked the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) to reduce financing of five autonomous bodies, including the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun and the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) in Bhopal over the next three years.
In a report on the rationalization of 109 autonomous bodies under Central government ministries, the finance ministry’s department of expenditure recommended that the environment ministry disengage with 23 bodies, merge 109 into 26 bodies and close six to reduce expenditure.
“The report has been prepared in accordance with the guidelines prescribed under rule 229 of General Finance rules 2017. The purpose of the report is to make specific and actionable recommendations for rationalisation of autonomous bodies with a view to furthering the aim of ‘minimum government, maximum governance,’ ensuring efficient use of public funds,” said a letter written by expenditure secretary T V Somanathan, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT.
The department had reviewed functioning of 10 bodies underthe environment ministry. They were WII, IIFM, the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Indian Council of Forest Research & Education (ICFRE), GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development (GBPNIHESD), Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute (IPRTI), Society of Integrated Coastal Management (SICM), National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), CPR Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC) and Centre for Environmental Education (CEE).
The WII and IIFM, both autonomous bodies under the environment ministry, are highly reputed institutes. Both were established in 1982 for training, research and education in biodiversity conservation.
The other three institutes to be disengaged by the environment ministry – CPREEC, IPIRTI and CEE — work in environmental education and awareness.
The DoE has recommended that the environment ministry disengage from both in terms of financial support and administrative control.’
“They may be converted into deemed universities engaged in teaching and research. However, Central government may continue to access their consultancy services as a client,” the report accessed by HT said.
The government may give financial grants based on the functions of the bodies until they are converted into deemed and autonomous Institutes. “Disengagement by the government with a three-year timeline and a gradual budget reduction of 25% each year is recommended,” the report said.
The WII has received Rs 34 crore and IIFM ₹37 crore from the Centre in 2020-21.
Dhananjai Mohan, director of WII, said the organisation was seeking clarifications on the report from the central government.
“Yes, we have also got the report but have some confusion about it. We are clarifying them with the Centre and before that, speaking anything on it will not be appropriate,” said Mohan.
The director IIFM, Pankaj Srivastava, said such an exercise was done at“regular intervals.”
“The DoE does the exercise after some period of time to evaluate the autonomy of the autonomous bodies under the different ministries or departments of the government. It is done to push the autonomous bodies like IIFM to be more self-dependent in terms of finance and be less dependent on government grants,” said Srivastava.
“The IIFM generates a certain amount of income, through academic fees and for salaries it dependents on Central grants,” he added.
BS Bonal, former member-secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), said WII was a renowned institute for wildlife research not only in India, but across world. “It would be better it is allowed to work in the present status than accepting the recommendation for it in the report,” said Bonal.
Bhopal-based wildlife and forest expert, Ajay Dubey, supported the recommendation made for IIFM.
“I haven’t seen any significant contribution from IIFM towards conservation of forest or wildlife. It is rather being used by the Indian Forest Service officers as a comfort zone by getting themselves posted there instead of field jobs. Turning it into a deemed university would encourage the students to do a lot more field work,” he said.
The department of expenditure has recommended that the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History , which is involved in the study of natural history focussing on ornithology, be made a part of the regular activities of the environment ministry. It also recommended the merger of SICOM and NCSCM, established in 2010 and 2011 respectively, into one to organisation to “avoid duplication of activities and attain economies of scale.”
It recommended allowing ICFRE and GBPNIHESD to continue working as autonomous bodies under the ministry without any change.
The department also reviewed the functioning five statutory bodies including the Central Pollution Control Board, National Tiger Conservation Authority and National Biodiversity Authority and said they should be encouraged to become “self-financed”.