The Andhra Pradesh Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies Act, 1995 came in response to an understanding in the state government, that the policy and legislative environment for investment sensitive, investor owned and controlled business was being increasingly opened, while usage-sensitive, user owned and controlled business continue to be very tightly controlled. In order for rural producers and others to engage with labour, financial, commodity markets effectively, it was understood that disadvantages communities needed a more liberal cooperative law.
However, the G.O.28 significantly takes away the spirit of autonomy available in the AP Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies Act, 1995. The G.O. assuming that cooperatives as “peoples” institutions – Cooperatives are not peoples’ organisations; they are their members’ institutions. The GO restores some of the key provisions to the department of cooperation (excluded in APMACS Act 1995) that have been used over decades to control cooperatives. These provisions include:
- The Government is competent authority to make provisions, from time to time, take necessary steps for making provisions with respect to the incorporation, regulation and winding up of co-operative societies based on the principle of voluntary formation, democratic member control, member economic participation and autonomous functioning as deemed necessary – which goes against the spirit of the right to form cooperatives. The bylaws of the cooperative could be compulsorily amended, again, even against the general body’s resolution to the contrary. Earlier this provision was almost always used to exempt the government or the registrar from fulfilling responsibility, such as the timely conduct of elections, audit.
- The powers given to the Registrar for registration and renewals which is against the spirit of the right to form cooperative. If Cooperatives are filing returns, it is the responsibility of registrar to verify and take measures at their level. Why do they go for renewal? The department as well as cooperatives would develop a vested interest.
- Admission of members and removal from membership and intimation to Registrar within 30 days: Government can make effort to ensure that the registrar would play its role in enable the cooperatives, and then regulate only where regulation was imperative. But keeping these types of provisions would undermine the functions and role of the management of cooperative societies.
- Size and term of the Board: The 1995 Act has sought, through this provision, to prevent to the extent possible, any vacuum in management, which has been experienced under the 1964 Act, to bring in the dreaded “Person-in-Charge” for the interregnum. By having less than half the directors retiring at any time, the 1995 Act has tried to ensure that there is always a quorum, and a democratically elected body is in position.
- Functional directors in the Board: Coopt persons as the functional directors to the Boards of cooperatives, and resolutions of the board could be annulled, if the nominated directors were uncomfortable with them. This means, all the cooperatives are in the hands of “professionals”. These people will have influence on decision making of the board without having membership responsibilities, ownership on the affairs of cooperative, accountability and liability of financial results of the cooperatives
- Conduct of elections: Based on experience, It is simply not possible for any third party to organize elections to all tiny and large cooperatives when their elections fall due. It is also not possible for them to print ballot papers with specific symbols chosen by candidates of each cooperative – the result is that ballot papers are printed en mass; common election dates are fixed for similar type of cooperatives; the fixing of common dates requires the deliberate withholding of elections where those have become due, for ease of management by the external party; politicisation takes place as media and parties begin to get involved in the results of a large number of cooperatives going to elections on the same day. In fact, the cost of elections shoots up as centralized printing, security arrangements, TA/DA of officers, etc, are all to be borne by the cooperatives. Further, centralized elections reinforce the misconception that cooperatives are state agencies.
- It is responsibility of every cooperative society to conduct member education programs based on their activities, need and importance. What way TSCU is concerned about it. Who will bear the certification cost? Who is benefiting from this clause???
- All amendments to bye-laws require registration in this GO. The company law requires registration only to changes in the memorandum (which provides the ‘identify’ of a company). Amendments to articles only required filing of the amendment for record. This is why, in the 1995 Act, amendments to only key provisions were listed for registration- the rest were to be sent for taking on record only.
- Registrar’s role to fix the staffing pattern, qualifications, pay scales and other allowances to the employees of the society; this will undermine functions & role of management. If registrar is involved, staff of cooperatives, feel more privileged in society than accountable to the cooperatives that they work with.
- Supersession of the Board and appoint the official Administrator(s) to manage the affairs of the society: Elections to cooperatives were not their own business – they are conducted by the registrar, under government fiat. Where other provisions had rendered the cooperative impotent in its business, provisions related to elections made the cooperative a potent political instrument in the hands of the party in governance, for accommodating party workers who could not be made legislators. Elections were withheld for years in most states, and often held under court directions.Elected boards could be superseded by the government/registrar on any number of times either for serious or frivolous charges, based on ‘the opinion of the registrar’. In this case, restraining the board for not conducting elections on time as per their bye-laws is contradicting.
- Dissolution by Registrar: A cooperative is a creature of its members, and, therefore, it provides for the members to choose not to continue their association with one another, to dissolve their cooperative.
- Settlement of disputes by registrar: If the registering authority is given the right to unilaterally dissolve a cooperative on any of these counts, as such right may lead to unhealthy practices.
In the 1995 Act, the approach was to ensure that the department would not develop a vested interest in cooperatives, even while it had some core corrective measures in its hands. The effort was to ensure that it would play the role of registration, and then regulate only where regulation was imperative, and that these functions would not be undermined by any management role.