Govt’s attack against NGOs lopsided
Voice of poor Indians is seldom heard in Raisina Hills, the power center of Indian government. Only when civil society leaders such as Aruna Roy or Anna Hazare hit the streets the political class in the corridors of power wake-up from the slumber.
India would have been without its transparency law — Right To Information – or the Forest Rights Act aimed to undo historical injustice to tribals. Both these laws were enacted after a struggle of several years by civil society members from across the country.
Had not Hazare gone on a hunger strike in August 2011, the central government would not have proposed a new law — pending in Parliament — to redress grievances of people and deliver public services in a time-bound manner. He single handedly brought corruption to national focus forcing the government to act.
The civil society uprising across India has hurt the government more than the slinging attacks from the opposition. And, the government had been looking to hit back and it did by initiating action against four Tamil Nadu based NGOs for alleged misuse of funds to stall Kudankulam nuclear plant.
Even the officials in ministry of home affairs, which monitors foreign funding to NGOs, agree that finding a clinching evidence of misuse of funds by these four NGOs will be difficult.
It all started with Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s statement to a US based science magazine saying “the atomic energy programme in Kudankulam has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly based in the United States, don’t appreciate our need to increase the energy supply.”
That was more than enough for the bureaucracy, political class and media to paint over 33,000 NGOs that receive foreign funding with the same brush.
What they have failed to reconcile is that the development NGOs, like the four in Tamil Nadu, receive negligible amount of foreign funding. The home ministry’s data shows that of Rs 11,000 crore foreign funding received by 33,000 organisations in 2009-10, the big chunk went to organizations promoting religion followed by charitable institutes. Most of the funding is through domestic contributions.
The surprising fact is the home ministry’s decision to investigate the petty money the NGOs organizing protests in Kudankulam received from foreign donors rather than looking for bigger violations under the Foreign Currency Registration Act (FCRA). The ministry does not have wherewithal to scrutinize records of all NGOs receiving money, indicating that these NGOs were the government’s target for continuing their protest at the nuclear site.
The government believes that the protests are influenced by US agencies but it has shied away from admitting to its failure to address the concerns of locals. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India recently conducted a mock drill for nuclear disaster without informing the locals, thereby creating a scare. Since then, the locals claim, voluntary contributions for the agitation has increased.
Many of those who are spearheading the movement at Kudankulam are ideologically against nuclear power, as rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, recently admitted and may not be playing directly into hands of foreign power.
Their voice can be ignored by the government in power but not crushed. It has tried to crush the dissenting view by initiating penal action against the four NGOs in Tamil Nadu and the PM going public with it.
There appear to be double standard in the government’s policy towards NGOs. The one’s which promote government policy are liked and those who protest have to face music.
SEWA in Gujarat, which receives foreign funding, is conducting a pilot project on government’s preferred scheme of cash transfer in place of subsidised ration. Cash transfer is an idea promoted by World Bank and accepted by the government.
A large number of activists including social economist Jean Dreze are protesting against the cash transfer scheme but they are not even heard. G D Aggarwal is on a fast to protect Ganga since February 9 in Haridwar and a candle light march is held near Prime Minister’s Office every day but they have failed to stir Raisina Hills. “We don’t have any foreign funding that’s why the Prime Minister is not listening to us,” was a curt remark of social activist Madhu Kishwar, who is part of save Ganga campaign.
Like Aggarwal, hundreds of people are protesting against dams from Himachal to Arunachal but I wonder why the Home Ministry has not bothered to investigate their funding also. Why only Kudankulam? Anybody can guess the answer better than me.
Irrespective of the debate ignited by the PM, I agree with many that the NGO sector lacks transparency and credibility. A very few NGOs have placed their audited accounts on their websites and none of them are willing to disclose information to people under Right To Information Act.
Many NGOs are just shops to siphon government money without any accountability even to the funding agencies such as Council for Advancement of People’s Act and Rural Technology (CAPART), where corruption and nepotism is said to be rampant.
Before pointing finger at the NGO sector alone, the government needs to place its house in order and come up with a fair policy for the voluntary sector enabling clean NGOs to grow and weeding out the bad ones.
Brandishing the protesting NGOs as agents of foreign powers is bad for a democracy, which needs divergent views for evolution.