NGOs & Development: AN AVOIDABLE CONTROVERSY…

Sarkaritel
By Sarkaritel July 2, 2014 10:57

NGOs & Development: AN AVOIDABLE CONTROVERSY…

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NGOs & Development

AN AVOIDABLE CONTROVERSY

By Dr.S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

02ngo_operationsNon-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in India are again in the news following the widely publicized leaked report of the Intelligence Bureau slamming foreign-funded NGOs for blocking development projects. Apparently, people-centric issues are used by them to create an environment that would stall projects. Mention is made of donors in Britain, Netherlands, Germany, and the US. Scrapping of Posco’s Steel Plant and Vedanta Bauxite Project in Orissa, protests against construction of dams in Arunachal Pradesh, protracted protests against Kudankulam Nuclear Project among many others are suspected to be linked with foreign funding agencies for obvious reasons.

The allegations suggesting collusion of some NGOs with their donors to provoke people’s protest against development projects have been heard for quite some time. These are indeed serious and need to be probed to ascertain the truth. For, crackdown on voluntary groups on mere suspicion, conjectures, prejudices, and political rivalries by using official power and machinery will not be advisable. The world over, voluntary sector has rapidly grown in importance for both development and welfare and has manifested remarkable abilities to deliver where public sector has lagged behind. The developed as well as the developing countries are experiencing proliferation of types and number of NGOs — also called civil society organizations.

Following adverse reports, the Home Ministry has clamped down on Greenpeace, India – an NGO funded by the international campaign group Greenpeace, which works for protection of natural environment in over 40 countries. It was in the forefront in the agitation against coal plants in Madhya Pradesh, genetically modified food, e-waste, etc. All foreign contributions emanating from Greenpeace International and Climate Works Foundation, says a report must be kept on hold till individual clearances are obtained from the concerned ministry for every foreign contribution.

Like the civil society organizations of the US and Europe, NGOs are becoming more visible and active in India. They comprise organizations of different sizes at various levels promoting varied interests–from street corner or hamlet level organizations in villages and towns to satellite connected transnational agencies in mega cities with the common feature that they are not an arm of the government or a tool of the corporate sector.

Generally accepted definitions of a NGO mention its characteristics as non-profit voluntary citizens’ group, task-oriented organizations driven by members having some common interest and performing a variety of humanitarian services and so on. Thus “citizen concern” is the central focus, “non-profit making” the cardinal principle, voluntarism in participation, and variety in interests and operation are the principal characteristics of NGOs.

There is no reliable data on the number of such organizations existing in India. In the 1990s, the estimates ranged between 10,000 and 100,000 and a decade later even put the figure as 3.3 million –unbelievable and obviously arrived at by conceding any group activity for a common cause as falling within the domain of the voluntary sector. Indeed, a private organization that pursues activities in common or community interest to promote common amenities or relieve suffering, and promotes the interests of the poor and the needy is loosely termed as NGO.

There are over 200,000 registered NGOs in India and about 44,000 NGOs are reported to have received permission from the Government for receiving foreign funds under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA). In 2013 there were Rs.12,000 crore foreign funds for NGOs and that only 2% of the  total number of NGOs reported it to the Home Ministry. Thousands of NGOs are said to be lax in filing annual income returns and most funds were diverted to unspecified purposes. If these were true, it doesn’t augur well for the future of the voluntary sector.

In the past, the Government had not been an enemy of voluntary organizations. On the contrary, in the 80s, there were many rural development NGOs and also an Association of Voluntary Agencies. These adopted a Code of Ethics which prescribed rules to prevent misuse of funds and disapproved link between these organizations and political parties.

In the last two decades, the role of accredited NGOs became significant as the Government found them effective in monitoring and implementing its policies. A Voluntary Action Cell was created in the Planning Commission as the nodal agency for Government-NGO interface. The Department of Family Welfare even devised the Mother NGO Programme under its Reproductive Health Services to motivate smaller organizations to promote the concept of small family norm and population control, etc.

The FCRA, 2010 prescribes rules for prevention of misuse of funds and prohibits voluntary workers from leading ostentatious life and links between political parties and volunteers. Commercial and political interests of NGOs are disallowed.

In 2007, Government-voluntary sector partnership was cemented by the National Policy of the Voluntary Sector, which enables organizations to legitimately mobilize funds. It covers organizations engaged in public service, community-based groups, non-governmental development organizations, charitable organizations, networks of such organizations, and also professional membership associations. The object is to create an enabling atmosphere for these organizations to further their effectiveness, safeguard their autonomy, and promote government-voluntary sector collaboration on principles of mutual trust.

Alas in about a decade, conditions have turned topsy-turvy and there is an atmosphere of misunderstanding and mistrust leading to reversal of policies and a crackdown on these organizations. NGOs which had achieved a place in development and welfare projects are now caught in controversies affecting their reputation nay, even their credibility.

As long as the NGOs remain confined to implementing government programmes, they are encouraged and   appreciated. NGOs have better rapport with people at the grassroots and reach them with ease than government functionaries. Once an organization crosses this boundary and takes up issues of popular concern but inconvenient to power holders, trouble starts and the foreign component comes into question.

NGOs in their enthusiasm to oppose the establishment on behalf of the people seem to be unaware of a basic point. Issues like corruption, environmental safety, rehabilitation of project displaced population, tribal rights, right to information are sensitive national issues unsuitable for people’s action with foreign funds. Donors – within and abroad – may have their own commercial interests and are in a position to trap the NGOs.

There is always a danger from strings attached in accepting donations. In choosing issues, fixing priorities, and formulating operational strategies, directions from donors take away voluntarism in people’s movements. The NGOs have to guard against the vested interests of those who pay the “pipers” ordering the “tunes”.

Certainly, the country has to steer clear of foreign hands intruding into domestic matters whether it is via NGOs or public and private sector including political parties and not in fits and start as reaction to unfavourable developments. Laws and rules must be adhered to by all and it is the duty of authorities to ensure compliance. They cannot be enforced selectively or only at chosen times, or as a strategy to eliminate opposition.

The hue and cry over the present awakening of the authorities is partly the result of the general apathy in our country to follow rules, to apply them equally to all, and to take action for violations immediately. Autonomy of the NGOs must be protected and promoted within the prescribed regulations. We don’t want a policy of cultivating a voluntary sector which is voluntary in name but functions as an adjunct or service provider for the establishment or for global commercial tycoons. The present controversy is an avoidable one if we cultivate respect for laws and rules.—INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Sarkaritel
By Sarkaritel July 2, 2014 10:57