End of autonomy by Madhu Prasad (Frontline)-
Role of UGC and changes envisaged:
- The mandate for the UGC was based on the extensive analysis and recommendations of the Report of the University Education Commission (1949-51) chaired by Dr S. Radhakrishnan.
- The committee underlined the need for autonomy in higher education to ensure universities have an essential enabling condition so as to create enlightened public opinion and not be bullied into creating unsound policies. The power given to the UGC to allocate and disburse grants was to ensure that universities remained capable to do the same.
- It was required of UGC in consultation with the Universities or other bodies concerned, all such steps as it may think fit for the promotion and co-ordination of University education and for the determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in Universities.
Structure of UGC:
- The UGC was established as an autonomous, statutory body which was appointed by the Central government, but the government’s role was specifically restricted and the contribution of serving professors (“at least four”) was ensured among its ten member
- Four members were to be drawn from the different fields of social production and from “the learned professions”. One-half of these were not to be officials of either Central or State government
- Two officials would be members as “representatives of the Central government”. The Chairperson was specifically not to be an official of either the Central or a State government.
The central government has claimed that changing priorities in education mandated need for a New Education Policy as well as a new legislation to replace the UGC Act, 1956. This has caused the tabling of the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act 1956) Bill, 2018.
Problems of HECI:
- Increased government control:
HECI’s strength has been increased to 14 members but it will reduce the academic component to just two serving professors.
Three Secretaries, of Higher Education, Skill Development and Enterprise, and Science and Technology, will be inducted from the “stakeholder Ministries”. Two other Central government appointees are the Chairpersons of the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).
While there will be two serving Vice Chancellors, they need not be academics, as we have seen them being drawn not only from the bureaucracy but also from the armed forces.
The HECI’s Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson are to be appointed by a permanent search-and-selection committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary and including the Secretary, MHRD, along with three co-opted academicians.
The UGC Act’s stipulation regarding the non-official status of the Chairperson has been removed although the fact that the Chairperson can be an “Overseas Citizen of India” has been specifically provided for.
The Central government’s control is further enhanced by allowing it to remove members of the HECI before the completion of their term not only for conviction for an offence which “in the government’s opinion” involves moral turpitude but also for “such other disqualifications as may be prescribed.”
There shall be an over-arching Advisory Committee. Headed by the Union Minister of HRD, it will comprise the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and members of the HECI and Chairpersons and Vice Chairpersons of Councils of Higher Education of all States. It will meet twice a year while the HECI will meet once a year.
It will have the power to advise the HECI on all issues and its “advice” will be binding as the HECI will have to “implement” its decisions. Furthermore, there has been withdrawal of power to allocate and disburse grants from the HECI and the transfer of this power to the MHRD
Further, HECI is supposed to take into consideration the idea of ‘national purpose’ and in case of any disagreement, the word of Central government will be final.
- Tilt to Privatisation:
The series of recent decisions “granting” autonomy to selected institutions to follow the path of privatisation reveals the true nature of HECI. Institutes are able to be autonomous as long as they raise their own funds and initiate a huge privatisation of higher education. Their unilateral decisions need no regulation. Students and faculty alike are left unprotected before the complete control of the managements over them.
It is only the Central and State governments which the HECI will be able to “advise” on how to keep education “affordable for all”. It will be similar to what we have already seen in the school system where State-funded schools are declining so rapidly that even children from the poorest and the most marginalised sections are being pushed out.
The HECI Bill, if passed, will also be legislating on a Concurrent subject thereby overriding specific Central and State Acts for establishing universities and other related legislation passed by the State Assemblies. This encroachment on the rights and powers of State governments violates the basic federal structure of the Constitution.
- Specifications of merit and learning outcomes:
The HECI is being empowered to specify “learning outcomes” and not just course structures. This invades the academic autonomy of the universities as such chosen “outcomes” determine the teaching and learning methods.
SC/ST/OBC students, minorities, women and persons with disability, who have direct experience of oppression and have culturally imbibed histories of deprivation, are required to achieve the same “learning outcomes” as those coming from contexts of privilege.
The Draft HECI Act speaks of “Merit alone”—a standardised concept invariably accommodated to market needs and job requirements, but which fails to comprehend merit as the creative result of the learning process itself.
If the HECI Bill is passed it will allow the Central government to centralise, consolidate and monopolise control over the academic life of the country and over the institutions that it can exercise its regulatory powers. On the one hand, the Central government’s role in the composition and the day-to-day functioning of the HECI is complete, and on the other, the HECI will have the punitive powers not only to “discipline” defiant institutions but also to initiate criminal proceedings against those that fail to conform.
Stiffer Challenges Await the New Banks Board Bureau by K. Srinivasa Rao (EPW)-
Banks Board Bureau- Mandate and role:
- The BBB—an autonomous body—was intended to eventually transition into a Bank Investment Company (BIC) in line with the recommendations of the Committee to Review Governance of Boards of Banks in India headed by P J Nayak and was set up by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
- The BIC, when formed, will hold the government’s stake in PSBs and function as an independent special purpose vehicle that would provide the banks greater autonomy. BBB to have two year term- From April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2018. Reconstituted with a new team.
- Banking sector reforms were reinforced when the government launched a set of measures, collectively titled Mission Indradhanush, after deliberations at the first Gyan Sangam, a meeting of the top leaders of banks that was conducted under the aegis of government and regulatory authorities in January 2015.
- Since then, the identification, selection, and nurturing of quality leadership for PSBs, as well as the continuity of said leadership, has been under greater focus, with primary responsibility for these tasks being entrusted to the BBB. Similarly, on the recommendation of the P J Nayak Committee, the position of chairperson was separated from that of managing director and chief executive officer (MD and CEO).
- Eminent professionals were inducted for the post of non-executive chairperson, akin to the practice in private banks. A few private sector professionals were also inducted at the level of the MD and CEO in some large public banks to add talent to the PSB pool.
- Succession planning for leadership roles, and the enforcement of codes of conduct and ethics were also a large part of the mandate. In the realm of business issues, coordinated action to mitigate asset quality woes, though not mandated, also stood out as an important and relevant task.
Key tasks for the New BBB:
- It has to reinvent its strategic role through greater coordination with all stakeholders, especially the Department of Financial Services (DFS), its biggest stakeholder.
- The new BBB may find PSBs in a weakened operational state from how the first BBB would have found PSBs.
Challenges confronting the PSB’s:
- Prompt Corrective Action:
In order to improve the performance of banks that have been identified to be weak and restore their operational efficiency, the RBI introduced the new Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) format with built-in rectification measures, effective from financial year (FY) 2018–19.
The PCA measures the performance of banks using various parameters and classifies them into three risk thresholds. Each level denotes a degree of weakness ranging from risk threshold I (less risky) to risk threshold III (very risky).
Among others, PCA measures three key parameters: asset quality, net non-performing assets (NNPAs), and capital adequacy ratio. NNPAs breaching the 6% level or capital adequacy ratio getting close to the minimum threshold of 10.25% would be clear indicators of weakness.
It also tracks concurrent negative rate of return on assets (ROA) ranging from two to four consecutive years. This results in banks posting losses after turning RoA negative.
Based on such metrics, the RBI has imposed PCA on 11 out of 21 PSBs so far. Such remedial measures, already imposed by the RBI, can be a good starting point for the new BBB to understand the operational state of PSBs.
- Asset quality:
Asset quality has always been under focus, but it has been deteriorating rapidly ever since an Asset Quality Review was undertaken by the RBI in September 2015 to reduce the divergence between the banks’ classification of non-performing assets (NPAs) and the central bank’s assessment. As a result, NPA levels zoomed to a historic high.
In order to provide an exit route to failed entities and speed up debt resolution, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016 was enacted, followed by the setting up of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI).
The new BBB has to pitch in to coordinate the debt resolution process even though it is not part of the mandate. The revival of PSBs will rest, in large part, on how asset quality management gets streamlined.
- Implications of PNB fraud:
The infamous Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud, followed by a series of loan-related embezzlements, has highlighted the need to reinforce risk governance practices and to improve the effectiveness of systemic controls.
The gaping holes that currently exist in operational risk management can jeopardise the sustainability of banks. With their fragile systemic controls and high susceptibility to frauds, PSBs will take a long time to win back public confidence.
PSBs are losing market share despite the fact that they continue to be the backbone of financial intermediation, especially in terms of their outreach to the hinterland.
Status of Private Banks: At a time when private sector banks were standing out as exemplars of best practices in corporate governance, the recent imbroglios at ICICI Bank and Axis Bank have flagged possible conflicts of interest in their conduct. They have added new dimensions to the weaknesses in the corporate governance of leading private banks.
Conclusion: The BBB has also to take up the task of appointing independent directors to the boards of PSBs to make them strong and effective. After appointing them, training them and conditioning their skill sets to meet emerging challenges will be essential.
The bureau could face another formidable challenge in asserting its anchoring position in the driving of the PSBs’ futures. The DFS may be persuaded to fully support the BBB in transforming PSBs to derive the maximum potential benefit from the eminent people on the team.
On the whole, a challenging task awaits the new BBB, where seeking government support, application of foresight, and adapting a flexible approach in grooming board functionaries of PSBs will be necessary to achieve its objectives.
Contested Coasts- The Draft CRZ Notification, 2018 by Preeta Dhar (EPW)-
There have been efforts to protect the coastal areas of India since 1991. Till date, there have been two iterations of the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (CRZ Notification)—in 1991 and 2011.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change has proposed to replace the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (2011) with an overhauled coastal regulatory framework based on the recommendations of the Shailesh Nayak Committee. The process and the contents of this proposed draft indicate a top–down approach favouring limited interests.
- One of the main criticisms of the 1991 notification was that the public had played a limited role in its formulation and implementation. In contrast, the process leading up to the 2011 notification was appreciably more consultative.
- Consequently, both the process and the final version of the 2011 notification signalled a strong belief in a participatory framework of governance. The implementation however remained weak primarily due to 3 main reasons:
The delayed and insufficient demarcation of baselines and ecologically significant areas.
Lack of institutional capacity
The frequent dilution of the notification through amendments
- The implementation of the coastal regulatory framework hinges on the demarcation of the high tide line (HTL) and low tide line (LTL), which form the baseline for regulated coastal areas. The National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), appointed by the MoEFCC, completed the process of demarcation of the HTL as recently as 2017.
- The demarcation process was not opened to the public at any stage. Where civil society organisations have been able to access the maps through right to information (RTI) filings, it has been pointed out that large stretches of ecologically sensitive areas (ESA) have been left out.
- The 2011 notification also required the demarcation of ESA, critically vulnerable coastal areas (CVCA), and the hazard line, keeping in mind vulnerability to coastal threats and changes. These demarcations have not been completed till date. The 2018 draft notification does not address this. Rather, it omits any mention of the hazard line altogether.
Need for re-examination and failures of the Draft:
- The 2006 National Environment Policy highlighted that the deeper causes for the degradation of coastal areas was the lack of institutional capacity and the non-participation of local communities in coastal governance.
- The draft notification does not just fail to address these concerns, it exacerbates them. The Shailesh Nayak Committee has conducted four stakeholder meetings in all, and only with the officials and chief ministers of the coastal state
- Most changes are overwhelmingly in favour of shrinking the areas under protection and opening up coastal areas for more activities, with significantly diluted safeguards. Ironically, most of these changes have been justified as “enhancing coastal livelihoods.”
- In fact, by increasing the pressure on coastal areas by reducing existing safeguards, it is possible that livelihoods dependent on natural resources may be further disadvantaged. A contentious issue relating to coastal livelihoods has been the impact of polluting or poorly planned coastal projects. Coastal communities have been vocal in their concern about the impact of celebratory “monuments”.
- The draft notification also proposes specific changes that limit or remove the requirement to engage with the public and other stakeholder Most significantly, the 2011 notification had a clearly outlined public consultation in the preparation of the CZMP; state governments have a specific responsibility to revise the draft CZMP after incorporating suggestions and objections received from stakeholders which has been omitted in the draft.
When ‘Protectors’ Turn Perpetrators (EPW)-
An unequal and patriarchal society requires a situation where vulnerable groups, like women and children, need protection from being victimised by perpetrators with predatory mindsets. However both the welfare state and civil society have not been able to perform this task well wherein the vulnerable are not safe even in the institutions especially created for them.
Despite the enactment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act) and the existence of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), incidents of rampant physical and sexual abuse of minors and women in childcare institutions (CCIs) and shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh reveal the ineffectiveness of the same.
Incidents of abuse:
- Sexual abuse at a CCI in Muzaffarpur, Bihar was exposed by a team from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which conducted a social audit in 2017. Of the 42 inhabitants of the CCI, 34 minor girls aged between 7 and 17 were found to have been physically and sexually abused. What is disquieting is that seven of the accused in the Muzaffarpur case happened to be women “caregivers” and “counsellors.”
- Another case of sexual abuse of minors in Deoria in Uttar Pradesh was revealed when a 10-year-old inhabitant of a CCI managed to escape. She reported to the police the violence and abuse that children were subjected to in the shelter home— from where 18 girls are still reportedly missing—which was reportedly being run without a valid registration.
Major issues and problems:
- It is not a dearth of laws, but lack of monitoring and absence of inspection committees that have led to the current predicament. All CCIs are required to be registered under the JJ Act and every district needs to have a child protection ofﬁcer, a child welfare committee, and a juvenile justice board. However, in practice, their functioning has not been effective enough to prevent the widespread misuse of power and money by those running these institution (NCPCR survey- Only 32% CCIs registered under JJ Act)
- The Ministry of Women and Child Development, which provides funding to CCIs under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme, is duty-bound to carry out social audits to detect malpractices, which have not been conducted.
- Although the NCPCR has now been ordered to complete social audits of all CCIs and the state governments have ordered probes, this has come too late and is too less to prevent further such incidents.
- According to the NCPCR survey, there are presently 1,575 survivors of sexual abuse living in CCIs across India. These children have escaped sexual abuse only to fall victim to it again at these shelter home While taking punitive action is necessary, often the government’s actions stop at just that, with any effort at alleviating the situation of these children and women.
- More often than not, children and destitute women who have been victims of violent and manipulative circumstances do not have a say in matters concerning their own welfare, and are at the mercy of the State and society.