Three years after Parliament passed a law to create the National Monuments Authority (NMA), the government has not been able to decide if the body should be autonomous or made to take orders from the ministry of culture.
Contractual employees with the authority have had to go without payments for months after the government's bookkeepers told the NMA it did not have the powers to sanction posts and expenditure.
The Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010 - that created NMA - came into force in March 2010. Three years later, the authority's status is still undecided.
The NMA chairperson gets a salary equivalent to the secretary-rank officer while the members are paid on par with joint secretary rank officials. Himanshu Prabha Ray, NMA chairperson, wondered why the expert body was set up if the government did not want to give it any powers. "Why was the NMA set up? Why have a separate statutory body? The function could have easily been handled by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI)?" Ray said.
The ministry has told the NMA that it would be treated as a subordinate office for the time-being.
"The ministry has not decided that it is a subordinate office. It is more to do with payment procedures. The member secretary, NMA, was given authority for financial power equivalent to that of subordinate office. It is purely a minor administrative issue and seems to have been misinterpreted," he said.
Culture minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch, said the NMA could not be a subordinate office since it "came into existence by an act of Parliament". But it isn't autonomous yet. "The call is under active consideration of the ministry," she said.
But every passing day has brought its set of difficulties for NMA's functioning. Keeping in line with its mandated work, when NMA started getting studies done, taking professionals as consultants and getting a template drawn for monument-specific by-laws among other works, it hired system analysts, data operators, consultant archaeologists and photographers. The sanctioned strength is just 13 but there are no technical and legal staff positions.
"But the Pay and Accounts office started sending the bills back asking, 'where is the sanction for these people?' Salaries were stopped for months," sources at the NMA said.