NON-GOVERNMENTAL Organisations (NGOs) have existed in India in varied forms for many decades. Even though the term NGO found its place in common usage through a United Nations Charter at the end of World War II, the idea of voluntarism is centuries old. In fact, historians have noted the existence of humanitarian associations situated along the Chinese rivers since the 13th century. One of the greatest organisations to have been founded on a platform of help and support was the Red Cross in 1863, with the purpose of providing assistance to the wounded in times of conflict. Independent humane groups such as the Royal Jennerian Society came up in 1803 to ensure that smallpox is speedily exterminated through newly discovered methods of vaccination. The list goes on and there is no doubt in my mind that their beginnings have indeed been genuine and well intentioned. Their support in assisting a nation in overcoming various shortfalls is both documented and proven.
NGOs perform a vital role in society : they help the government to pursue many of its goals and objectives with superior management skills that extend to the grassroot levels. The case of India is no different. Here too, many NGOs have played a stellar part in helping society overcome a slew of challenges. A brief enumeration of the role played by some leading NGOs in the country immediately reveals what a quintessential NGO stands for.
- Child Rights and You (CRY) was established in 1979. It deals with issues like child labour, girl child, malnutrition, poverty, child trafficking, gender equality and more.
- Goonj was founded in 1999 and deals with disaster relief, humanitarian aid and community development.
- HelpAge India founded in 1960, specialises in taking care of disadvantaged older people by improving their quality of life.
- Lepra India is into promoting quality health care and supports the National Health Care Programme for the prevention and control of various diseases.
- Pratham Education Foundation was created with the purpose of improving the quality of education in India.
- Sargam Sanstha provides children and people services in rural areas, specially the disabled and their families.
Here, it is important to state that there may be many more that are doing a great job as well and their omission from the list doesn’t take away anything from their contributions.
This is one side of NGOs, however. There is another side that has the stink of corruption, propaganda and for a while now, serving as proxies of foreign entities with the objective of harming the progress and stability of our nation. This is compounded when we see the boom in the growth of NGOs in India over the past decade. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was tasked to map registered NGOs has disclosed that India has at least 31 lakh NGOs (2015), in 26 states and more than 82,000 NGOs are registered in seven Union Territories. This is more than double the number of schools in the country and 250 times the number of government hospitals. Such is their rise that according to recent data, there was 1 NGO for 400 people in India and when we compare it to the number of policemen, which is 1 for 709 people, we realise the extent of their expansion in our country. This also raises a pertinent question about the need for so many NGOs and whether quality is being compromised over quantity.
For some time now, their financial status has been shrouded in controversies; less than 10 per cent of NGOs have complied with the requirement of submitting balance sheets and income-expenditure statements with the Registrar of Societies. The Intelligence Bureau, in a report accused “foreign funded” NGOs as “serving as tools for foreign policy interests of western governments” by sponsoring agitations against critical developmental projects, specifically against nuclear and coal-fired power plants and anti-GMO agitations across the country. Many NGOs are funded by donors based in the US, UK, Germany, the Netherlands among others and use people-centric issues that creates an environment which lends itself to jeopardising and stalling development projects undertaken by the government. NGOs are also said to be working through a network of local organisations to negatively impact the GDP growth by a whopping 2-3 per cent, as per the IB Report.
In April 2015, the Government of India shared a list of 42,000 NGOs with the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to check suspicious foreign funding amid the crackdown on some top international donors for flouting the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2011. As many as 42,273 NGOs were put under watch after reports claimed that several charity organisations are diverting funds for purposes other than the permitted use of foreign contribution. These included NGOs working in religious, cultural, economic, social and educational fields and the permits of as many as 8,875 NGOs were revoked by the government.
Reports from top intelligence agencies have further indicated that one of the NGOs was leading a “massive effort to take down India’s coal-fired power plant and coal mining activity” by using foreign funds to “create protest movements under ‘Coal Network’ umbrella at prominent coal blocks and coal-fired power plant locations in India”. It was reported that this NGO aimed to fundamentally change the dynamics of India’s energy mix by disrupting and weakening the relationship between key players. Similarly, there has been irrefutable evidence against another prominent foreign NGO, which was accused of sedition after anti-India slogans were raised at an event organised by it. It is a matter of grave concern that charges of sponsoring anti-national activities have been levelled against well-known foreign NGOs whose sole agenda is to advance western foreign policy interests.
Many NGOs often resort to inflated figures and fake surveys against legitimate businesses and target the domestic sector with the sole aim of destabilising the strong foundations of our country. While some NGOs are doing creditable work, many more have a hidden agenda that harms national interest and the public at large. A calibrated approach along with unabated vigil is the need of the hour so that a great vehicle which is an instrument of development and growth is not misused for self-interest.
While there is no panacea for dealing with rogue NGOs, I am reassured, when I look at the government’s resolve and determination to control this serious situation. I am certain that we are on the right track, this is indicated by the fact that there has been a creditable reduction in the foreign funding of NGOs between 2015-16 (`17,773 crore) and 2016-17 (`6,499 crore). However, much more needs to be done at all levels of administration, if the ill-effects that dishonest NGOs can unleash in the towns and villages and on the economy and health of our nation are to be significantly reduced.
Anil Rajput, Sr. Vice President, ITC Ltd – Views expressed are personal