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The question of autonomy

The question of autonomy

In a series of quick developments, RBI Governor Urjit Patel resigned from his post with immediate effect and the government has appointed former bureaucrat Shaktikanta Das in his place. Coming close on the heels of media reports suggesting an ongoing turf war between the RBI and the Central government, Patel's eventual resignation hints that none of the two sides was ready to relent on the issues on which differences existed. In the ongoing debate whether the Central government is purposefully undermining the autonomy of key institutions such as CBI and RBI, the recent developments indicate that the government is not ready to be cowed down before the cacophony created in the name of autonomy to some institutions. In an election year, the government certainly needs more funds at its disposal so that it can spend the money on social sectors which directly benefit the poor. But, giving the example of how key financial institutions depend precariously on RBI policies, the RBI officials are believed to have informed the political executive how tampering with RBI norms, even in the arena of cash reserves, could lead to financial chaos in the sector. The exit of soft-spoken Urjit Patel underlines the fact that the top RBI officials are not in a mood to give in to government's pressure. The new RBI governor Shaktikanta Das has said that he would try and uphold RBI's autonomy but given his background as a career bureaucrat, he is believed to bring RBI closer to the government. With the appointment Das, RBI has virtually come under the government and from now on, the RBI's policies are expected to reflect the government's viewpoints as well. Meanwhile, the criticism of the government's move to appoint Das as the new RBI governor has come from the BJP camp itself. Jay Narayan Vyas, a BJP leader from Gujarat, has questioned the new RBI governor Shaktikanta Das' credentials to head the Central bank. "The New RBI Governor Das's educational qualification is MA (History). Hope and Pray he doesn't make RBI also a History. May God Bless the New Arrival !!," the former minister in Narendra Modi's cabinet when he was the chief minister of Gujarat tweeted on Wednesday. Vyas further said: To manage RBI you have to have a fair knowledge of the domestic and international economy. I respect IAS, the issue is that they're exposed to a little of many things but the acceptance among the international community which earlier Governors commanded (is not there). He further added, "I sympathise with Shaktikanta Das, and he has a Master's degree in history. He will have to pull out a lot more at his age that is near retirement. He has to control and steer the RBI and answer issues like the use of RBI reserves." Replying to the criticism of the government's move, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley has said Das has the "right credentials" to head the Central bank. "Das has been a very senior and an experienced civil servant. He has almost his entire career in the management of finances and economic management of the country both when he was in the state government of Tamil Nadu and also when he was in the government of India in the ministry of finance," Jaitley said. On his part, Das defended his appointment as the RBI Governor: I will try and uphold professionalism, core values, credibility and autonomy of this institution. It's an honour and great opportunity to serve RBI. I will try my best to work with everyone and work in the interest of Indian economy."

Even as the autonomy of the RBI has come in for sharper scrutiny from the opposition and ruling party members, the question of functional autonomy to CBI is also being debated, with petitions filed in the Supreme Court. The opposition politicians seem to have endorsed the Central government's move to bring a greater sense of discipline and purpose among the premier investigating agency. Both Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, whose ruling party leaders are attempting to form an opposition parties' alliance against BJP at the Centre, have cancelled the authority given to CBI to investigate cases in their respective states. At a time when the top investigating agency is struggling to maintain its autonomy and freedom, some state governments' decision to cancel the authority given to CBI to carry out raid and search operations in these states, shows how the political class is divided on the definition of autonomy and freedom to CBI and similar other organisations. But what is beyond doubt is that the government is determined to bring a greater sense of accountability in the functioning of some of the most respected and autonomous institutions in the country.

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