Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Dark World of NGOs

Do you know that only about 10 per cent of the over 22 lakh NGOs file their annual income and expenditure statements with the authorities ? As per given Source- A total of Rs 13,051 crore foreign contribution was received by 17,616 NGOs in the country in 2013-14, Rs 11,527 crore by 20,497 NGOs in 2012-2013 and Rs 11,558 crore by 22,747 NGOs in 2011-2012. Also quoting another Source- The main change is that all NGOs will have to make public each foreign contribution received by them within a week of the receipt, on their official website or a website prescribed by the government.

Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)is a regulatory tool that enables monitoring and control of foreign funding. It will be better to know about pros and cons of this tool before going in this debate. PMO has initiated exercise to tighten monitoring over NGOs in the country. Intelligence Bureau has given inputs to "improve oversight and increase transparency" in the working of the voluntary sector in India. The crux of the IB report lies that foreign-aided NGOs are actively stalling development project.The reputation of the NGOs is on thin ice due to corruption but one must look overall problem in context of current government policies.

The paranoia of foreign hands begins with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was extremely worried of NGOs that she assumed to be puppeteered by foreign agencies. The current saga began with the offloading of Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai and blocking fund of Ford Foundation. While Greenpeace is instrumental in raising voice over Kudankulam project, Ford Foundation came on scrutiny due to funding of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGO fighting for the rights of Gujarat riot-victim. The success story of Ford’s grant making programme in India are Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Yogendra Yadav, Kiran Bedi and Anna Hazare. In an exceptional situation, both Modi and Left see these foundations as the capitalist interests of the west for different reasons. PRIA has removed an article advocating Ford Foundation as model for philanthropic initiatives in India while maintaining the web link at twitter.

Before demonizing either government or NGO sector, let us look into this matter with open mind. There is surely shift in ole of government aid paradigm. Government of India is funding projects only for service delivery project to NGOs. NGO-isation of India's HIV/AIDS program has widened the field of non profit organizations participation in government programmes. The success of this apparatus is connected the episodic failures in service delivery and addressing HIV-related stigma comprehensively in the present due to lack of government extension staff. Also, the rights-based approach being adopted by state governments in their various Acts has no or little merit in practical realities. There are no funds available to monitor implementation of the rights based laws. The additional nail in the coffin for protesters is lack of fund for human rights, democracy and law enforcement. No organizations in India will go on the wrong side of state by giving funds to protesters (problem groups). This has led to the dependency on funds from foreign donors.

In 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai highlighted three general principles to protect civil space. The ability to seek, receive and spend money is one of them. Current government can't criminalize dissent but they are cleverly having a crackdown on foreign-funded dissent. Current laws fail to define anti national & political activities leading to mishandling of the protesters. And a thumb rule about power in India is that whenever interpretation of regulation is left completely up to the imagination of the state without any establishment of independent institution, the net result is nearly always discretionary and prohibitive.The roots of democracy lie not in the government but in social relations and freedom of speech. The means of protest in the state shows us the real power of citizens and voluntary sector. One must remember words of Vinoba Bhave - "What we should aim at is the creation of people power, which is opposed to the power of violence and is different from the coercive power of state."

But the news isn't good for voluntary sector itself.It will not be an understatement that funding to voluntary sector is largely decided by bribes and political affluence. NGOs are used as siphons to route black money by corrupt entities and individuals! The voluntary sector is a den of corruption and corrupt NGOs needs to be completely weeded out.They must make full and public disclosure of their funding and expenditure. They must also be made answerable under the RTI Act. The era of accountability and transparency has to began in the voluntary sector.

The job of NGOs, whistle-blowers and the media is to keep the entire government apparatus humble and they have a universal responsibility for the protection of innocents even that means wrath of state. Corruption in any form must be curbed if we wish to become a developed society' . Robert Klitgaard, a world famous authority on corruption, famously declared that corruption is equal to monopoly plus discretion minus accountability (C=M+D-A ). Both government officials and NGOs have looted funds in the name of poor, disabled, women and minorities. It is important to handle matters of the state and voluntary sector with transparency and accountability. There are tough questions for us citizens to answer now. Do NGOs really know the interest of donors while protesting before government ? Can government go ahead with any “development project” as a rhetorical national interest without consulting all stakeholders? If any citizen disagree with govt and take to the streets, should the IB keep a tab on the concerned citizen? The debate is much recommended, even if it will raise more questions than it can probably answer.

*Please also read articles of Jay Mazoomdaar in FirstpostHarsh Mander in Scroll & Samanth Subramanian in The Guardian dissecting the dark world of NGOs.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

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