Members of the Opposition parties on Tuesday accused the government of interfering with the functioning of autonomous bodies and taking control of independent institutions. The accusations were made in the Lok Sabha during the debate on a Bill to amend the Chartered Accountants Act that gives the government greater control over the disciplinary committee of the Indian Chartered Accountants Institute (ICAI).
The Bill — to amend the Chartered Accountants Act 1949, the Cost and Work Accountant Act 1959, and the Companies Secretary Act 1980 — was introduced by MoS (Corporate Affairs) Rao Inderjit Singh.
Most members objected to the proposal that the disciplinary committee of the ICAI, which has five members, should have three non-CAs and Secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), as the chairman. The committee is supposed to coordinate the efforts of the three professions.
Participating in the debate, Congress leader in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “It is unclear how the conflict of interest between disciplinary and administrative functions will be addressed if the council continues to recommend who could be on the committee. The three councils already have committees for coordinating among themselves. It is unclear why there is a need to set up another coordination committee. The proposal for Secretary, MCA, heading it will impinge upon the independence of the institutes. There is a gap between the cup and the lip.”
The Bill had been first introduced in December last year but was sent to a standing committee for further deliberations.
DMK leader A Raja questioned the intention of the government in bringing such a Bill. “Some of the provisions of the Bill deserve to be appreciated but some create apprehensions that the government has some agenda. For Bar Council, the chairman is a lawyer. For Medical Council, chairman is a doctor, but for ICAI committee, chairman will be a non-CA? Not being judge of one’s own case is applicable to individuals, not for institutions. In case of institutions, domain knowledge is important,” he said, asking for the Bill to be sent to a Select Committee.
TMC’s Saugata Roy, who was part of the Standing Committee that deliberated on the Bill, said, “The Standing Committee had mentioned some things on the autonomy, which the Bill has not followed. The bureaucrats of the MCA have increased their stranglehold on the three professions. You have thrown the baby with the bathwater in the name of regulations. The disciplinary committee has more non-CAs than CAs.”
NCP’s Supriya Sule also suggested the government had some “hidden agenda”.
BJP’s Jhansi MP Anurag Sharma sought to allay the fears. “The autonomy of the institutes has not been tinkered with. A disciplinary committee is proposed because the institute has been able to take action only in a few cases of misconduct. There are more than 3.5 lakh CAs in India but none of our best practices are recognised internationally. Best practices of western countries have been studied by the ministry before bringing this Bill,” he said. Taking potshots at the Congress, he said, “During the UPA rule, there was a buddy system, where everyone of the same ilk protected their interests. If an independent body is being created for disciplinary action, what is the problem.”
Last week, the ICIA asked for status quo to be maintained. However, the House panel dismissed the concerns and endorsed the Bill.