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Voluntary Sector and Lokpal For the last few months the movement of Sh. Anna Hazare became an outlet to vent the frustration for Indian common people who had witnessed rampant corruption in the country. The effective Lokpal became an instrument for fight against corruption. But now the debate is trivialized by saying whether...

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Voluntary Sector: Future of Financial Resources Now the clear writing on the wall is that voluntary sector of India is not going to have much support from the foreign sources in near future. On one hand there is depleting trends of the foreign funds and restrictive regulatory laws on the other. These trends were evident since last two decades with...

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The National Policy on the Voluntary Sector: Where... Within the complex realities of the relationship between government and Voluntary Sector, the National Policy on the Voluntary Sector came like a ray of hope. The policy saw the light of the day in 2007 due to the tremendous efforts and the leadership of the Planning Commission,. Essentially, the policy...

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Will Small Voluntary Organizations Perish in Coming... It is true that the voluntary sector today is facing one of the most challenging times in the recent Indian history. The worst affected would be those small organizations operating in the remote villages, towns, blocks and districts. These organizations have been an effective link as well as a vehicle...

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FCRA 2010: Facing the Reality The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (2010), the sword that hang above the heads of the voluntary organizations in India for the last few years, finally became a reality on May 01, 2011. The rules as they are presented today, in some way, reflect the series of representations, appeals, delegations,...

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Voluntary Sector and Lokpal

For the last few months the movement of Sh. Anna Hazare became an outlet to vent the frustration for Indian common people who had witnessed rampant corruption in the country. The effective Lokpal became an instrument for fight against corruption. But now the debate is trivialized by saying whether NGOs should be part of it or not. Many statements are being made by the various people either in favour or against it. Sometimes, the tone is rather a threat than a desirous solution. Unfortunately, this step has again come as action by the government without analysing the problems which this sector is facing. We all do believe that Voluntary sector should be governed with the highest standards of accountability and transparency, but Lokpal in current format cannot provide any solution.

Like any other system or institution in this county, the voluntary sector has also become victim of corruption. Instances of misappropriation of funds and corruption have been reported here and there. Consequently, we are collectively branded as corrupt, and for some time, we have been a victim of this negative generalization. You might remember that it is not long time back I wrote to you about the ‘breaking news’ that appeared in the mainstream media where it reported that a few voluntary organizations have been ‘blacklisted’ by the government for not complying with FCRA rules and regulations.

However, I believe that the fundamental ideology that should drive the efforts to ‘clean up’ any system or institution should be that of rebuilding its lost efficacy and thereby to restore its lost image and legitimacy. I reiterate that this proposal to bring voluntary sector within the Lokpal, which is to be further debated threadbare, must solely be guided by this fundamental belief that it cleans up the system from all malpractices. Otherwise, it can turn out to be another monster that can be used to restrict the voluntary sector. In addition to this, any efforts in this direction without understanding the sector with its unique set of problems do not bode well for the sector. It will further stifle the voluntary sector which is already battling with a host of restrictive measures. Hence, we need to understand the sector and the problem areas which if understood well can provide relief to sector as well as further improve the image of the voluntary organizations in the country.

I am now sharing with you some of our views in this regard;
1. There are number of voluntary agencies working in almost all parts of the country. Their outreach is wider than even the government line departments. They operate with the marginalized communities right from urban locations to the remotest forest regions of North-East. Their history of engagement with people is quite old and is primarily based on their goodwill.
2. From a functional point of view they can be divided into three categories. Firstly, those who provide services like health, education, sanitation, etc. The second category is those who educate people about their rights or entitlements within the provisions of either government schemes or within the framework of Indian constitution. And the third category is those who take up research and advocacy work wherein they analyze the government projects, schemes, and programmes and try to advocate for change.
3. Since their beneficiaries are invisible or are too poor to pay for their services, these voluntary development organizations are heavily dependent on external financial resources for their survival. Globally the source of such financial support is government, private sector, individual donors, multi-lateral agencies or international bilateral agencies. There has been drastic change in the resource providers in India in last few years. Due to increasing economic growth and increased focus on technical aid, the foreign aid to India for development projects is being reduced and most of it is now directed towards government aid. The private and individual funding to NGOs has not yet become a reality due to various reasons which includes the absence of facilitating taxation laws. Further, foundations of many corporates tend to operate themselves as non-profit arms of main promoting companies. Hence, the only choice left with Indian NGOs is the government funds.
Suggestions:
1. We believe that there should be a higher, if not the same, level of accountability and transparency among voluntary organizations in India.
2. As the foreign funding is drying out and already very strict provisions are being implemented under new FCRA laws, there is no need to single out and target organizations receiving foreign funds. The limit of Rs. 10 Lakhs is also very low, which will neither get any desired result nor achieve the goal.
3. There is a need to improve and professionalize the registration system of India. There are separate ministries for Corporates, Media and even Judiciary, but there is no nodal department or ministry which can advise, monitor and upgrade the voluntary sector in India. The voluntary sector is highly regulated as various ministries have their own mechanism to monitor. Secondly, there is need to have independent council like Press or Bar Council to monitor, provide accreditation , and strengthen the voluntary movement in India.
4. We need to develop a system which keeps the independence of the sector intact but also has effective check on this. The voluntary sector is equally important for the democracy and development of nation as the media or any other sector is.
5. Since majority of the sector is surviving on the grants from government and public sector, there is a need to check the source of the funding. In the last few years we have observed and also CAG reports have indicated that many government departments do not follow their own guidelines while funding NGOs, hence promote corruption. We suggest that in such cases, it is not just the NGOs that should be blacklisted or penalized, but those providing such funds should also be questioned.
6. There is sudden mushrooming of NGOs formed by vested interests. This fly by night NGOs can be checked only if we monitor both receiver and provider of the funds.
7. In nutshell, VANI along with its members advocates for high level of accountability and transparency in public institutions and that includes Voluntary Sector too. Hence, we urge the Indian Government to create an effective mechanism like VO –Council with anchoring ministry, without differentiating between foreign or Indian funds. We also aspire that the “National Policy on Voluntary Sector”, produced by Planning Commission and approved by Union Cabinet in 2007, is implemented in its true spirits.

Voluntary Sector: Future of Financial Resources

Now the clear writing on the wall is that voluntary sector of India is not going to have much support from the foreign sources in near future. On one hand there is depleting trends of the foreign funds and restrictive regulatory laws on the other. These trends were evident since last two decades with the departure of bilateral funding agencies from India. Those who remained are primarily funding the government. Even the support of multilateral agencies is targeted towards government projects.  The recent depletion of funding base of International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs) is final call for Indian Voluntary organizations to rethink their strategy and re-work their resource base within India.  In coming years, the Indian voluntary sector will have only two choices, either work with government or explore for support from indigenous donors.  This so called ‘crisis’ also provides us opportunity to rejuvenate the sector in changing paradigm and emerge as stronger and vibrant.

These changing times also reaffirm the mandate and relevance of VANI, to work towards strengthening the sector in becoming more effective. In the last few months VANI has conducted numerous formal and informal consultations with organizations of various sizes and nature. This also includes the eminent leaders of the sector as well as activists all over India who have dedicated their lives to achieve the mission of their institutions. The question is to look glass either half empty or half full. The first and foremost opportunity is to work with the government on various national, state and local initiatives. We know that officials are more comfortable if we go as sub-contractors rather than critical partners in these initiatives. The next five year plan, being prepared by the Planning Commission, visualizes greater engagement of voluntary organizations in its implementations. It is also envisaged that most of the schemes will be implemented by the state governments. We know today there are more hindering factors than facilitating points while partnering with government machinery. There are leaks and rigidness which we all hate to compromise. There is ghost of corruption, arbitrariness and indifference in many cases. But can we leave all this public resources being wasted or try to influence the government to be more responsive towards the need and aspirations of its citizens. We can’t close our eyes and see wastage of precious resources being wasted. These resources are allocated for the benefit of the marginalized community, but due to lack of information are either not spent or go being wasted. There is needed to start ongoing information dissemination campaign on these flagship schemes with VOs and general population.  The increase of awareness level will definitely reduce the corruption and enhance the efficacy of such schemes.

Let’s also take this situation as an opportunity to work at two fronts which the sector has not yet tried. Till date the voluntary sector has not articulated its effective voice to have clear partnership and engagement policy with government. The time has come for each one of us to mobilize our sector. This mobilization could be horizontal and vertical by including all voluntary development organizations working all over India. We must demand special treatment of the voluntary sector in implementation of schemes at various level of government functioning.  Having a structured dialogue with constructive engagement of various stakeholders could be organized at district, state and national level.

Secondly, there is widening gap between the skills sets needed and skills available with the voluntary organizations to access these resources. The opportunities to train the human resources are being depleting very fast and the gap is filled by the commercial organizations or individual consultants. The next important step could be intensive capacity building and handholding of small and medium sized organizations in developing skills of engaging and partnering with government.

VANI reaffirms its commitment to usher the voluntary sector through this difficult but challenging times. We invite your suggestions for VANI as well as for the sector on this issue.

The National Policy on the Voluntary Sector: Where do we stand today?

Within the complex realities of the relationship between government and Voluntary Sector, the National Policy on the Voluntary Sector came like a ray of hope. The policy saw the light of the day in 2007 due to the tremendous efforts and the leadership of the Planning Commission,. Essentially, the policy was an effort to redefine the relationship between the both engines of nation building. This policy visualized to evolve a long-term, sustainable and institutionalized collaboration between the government and voluntary organizations. The voluntary organizations in India have always been well known for their innovative models of development. Due to their presence and outreach across the country, they act as a bridge between “aam aadmi” and the formal structures of governance at local, state and national levels. They also function as vehicles of societal transformation by disseminating and demystifying the rights vested with various government schemes. Eventually, a need to develop a national policy that not only defines the relationship between the government and the voluntary sector but also strengthens the sector emerged. Various strategies like capacity building, streamlining the procedures and guidelines, creating synergy between efforts of government and voluntary sector have been outlined. However, the origin of these efforts could be traced back as far as 1988, but the first concrete step was taken by Planning Commission in 1994, when national convention was organized in March 7-8. In these two days of deliberations, the Planning Commission adopted an ‘Action Plan to bring about a Collaborative relationship between Voluntary Organizations and the Government”. It should be noted that while formulating the Tenth Five Year Plan, the Planning Commission set up a Steering Committee for the active involvement of voluntary organizations. The National Convention of VANI in August 2006, deliberated on the draft framework of the policy and eventually the approach paper of 12th Plan stated that Central Government would announce the policy for voluntary sector. On May 17, 2007 the “national Policy was approved by the Government of India.

The announcement of national policy was whole-heartedly welcomed by the sector as it reflected the seriousness of the government to encourage, enable, and empower an independent, creative and effective voluntary sector as its partner and not as a ‘sub-contractor’.  Broadly speaking, the policy sets out four specific objectives:

-   To create an enabling environment for VOs that stimulates their enterprise and effectiveness, and safeguard their autonomy

-    To enable VOs to legitimately mobilize necessary financial resources from India and abroad

-   To identify operating systems by which the Government may work together with VOs, on the basis of the principles of mutual        trust and respect, and with the shared responsibility; and,

-   To encourage VOs to adopt transparent and accountable systems of governance and management.

Where do we stand today?
Although, there has been no systematic analysis of the achievements or the failures of the policy but the broad indications are not very promising. Some of the areas are listed below:

  1. State Policies:

One of the intentions of the national policy was to motivate state governments to have similar policies. The Deputy Chairman wrote to almost all the chief Ministers in this regard. VANI along with its member organizations, also conducted series of workshops in various states with the objective of informing state level Voluntary Organizations, as well as build a link between state governments. Various state level groups were formed to coordinate and motivate state governments. In 2007-2008, there were almost 13 meetings were organized. Unfortunately, only three states came up with the draft policies; they are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

  1. Enabling Environment:

The National Policy promised governments efforts towards creating enabling environment for Voluntary organizations by simplifying rules, regulations, capacity building and facilitating funding environment. However, more stringent Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010, was made, which now not only requires re-registration after every five years but also relieves government from accountability towards VOs. On the one hand, the provision of deemed approval is being taken back while on the other hand there is no answerability by Ministry in case of a delay or arbitrary rejection. Presently, the VOs are not supposed to mobilize people for their democratic rights unless approved by the ministry. Similarly, the proposed Direct Taxes Code intends to tax VOs. The provision of saving has been taken away along with facility to account on accrual basis. The definition of charitable activities is as confused as it was earlier, the business like activities unilaterally defined by accessing officer can take away the tax exemptions. The VISA regime for VOs has also been tightened. Now to invite internal experts or organizing international workshop requires clearance from three Ministries, like Home, External Affairs, and Nodal Ministry.  Lastly, for creating enabling environment for fund generation within India has also become more difficult. The relationship of partnership for development between governments is shifting very fast as the relationship of ‘sub contractor’. The VOs have to compete along with the various consultancy firms to partner with government on various development schemes.

  1. Consultative Mechanism with National Ministries:

One of the outstanding recommendations of the policy was to work towards building permanent mechanism of regular consultative mechanism between various national ministries and VOs. This has mixed results. The Finance Ministry has started organizing pre-budget meetings with the selected VOs. VANI was also invited by the Finance Ministry along with CII, FICCI and other industrial associations for consultations on Direct Taxes Code. Although, some ministries invite VOs for various consultations, but there is no attempt to make permanent or systematic structures.

  1. The Planning Commission:

Having pioneered the National Policy on the Voluntary Sector, the Voluntary Action Cell of the Planning Commission, undertook many significant steps. The national online registration and data bank was initiated along with three task forces viz., Accreditation system, national Registration regulation, and Decentralized Funding Mechanisms. Recently, all the three draft reports have come, and they require sharing and consultations with stakeholders.

  1. Information about National Policy:

During its attempt to disseminate information about National Policy, VANI realized that neither VOs nor senior officials of government have any idea of National Policy.  Many government officials refuse to accept it as the government document which is to be implemented. The need of approval of the policy by the Indian Parliament was suggested by almost all of them.

What the future holds?

We are entering into an important phase where 12th five year is being worked out and there are many targets that Indian Government intends to achieve with the active collaboration of VOs.  Therefore, it is important to conduct an effective review or report card of the National Policy with specific recommendations. These recommendations could become agenda for all Voluntary Organizations, Planning Commission, state governments and national Ministries.  Efforts are also needed to further disseminate the information about the policy and its intentions with small VOs as well as government functionaries. There is a need to solicit commitment from state governments and national ministries. A systematic intervention is also needed to get National Policy approved and adopted by the Indian Parliament.

We do feel that unless these steps are not taken up, the national policy can’t achieve its goal and this might face the fate of dying in the racks of government machinery.

Harsh Jaili

CEO, VANI

Will Small Voluntary Organizations Perish in Coming Years?

It is true that the voluntary sector today is facing one of the most challenging times in the recent Indian history. The worst affected would be those small organizations operating in the remote villages, towns, blocks and districts. These organizations have been an effective link as well as a vehicle to reach the poorest persons in the remotest locations. Some call them ‘Jhola Wallas’, or grass root activists. Most of them are either the products of a social action, or networks created by large organizations, donors or government projects to deliver services. Many of them operate with minimum infrastructure, but are engaged in innovative development work or are associated with rights based approach. Unfortunately, these small voluntary organizations become the first target of all the attacks on the sector. Besides the repercussions of the changes in the regulatory regime, the misinterpretation of rules, changes in resource scenario or the new methodology, etc, will have serious implications to these small organizations.

Many of the members of VANI are from this section of voluntary sector and through this note I would like to highlight their plight. I would also like to place a few suggestions, which I believe would be effective in safeguarding them. I believe that such protective measures are critical to keep the quintessential spirit and the soul of the voluntary movement in India.

As I stated earlier, most of these organizations are products of various social movements at the grass roots level. Their thematic interventions are varied; like access to health, natural resources, education, empowerment of marginalized groups like dalits, women, or tribals, etc. They have gone through a period when educational and material support was available for their cause from the large voluntary organizations, donors as well as the government. The spirit of large VOs and International NGOs was such that those small organizations could easily get support wherein their required documentation was done by the supporters. Many large support organizations existed to build their capacity as well as to help them in documenting their practices.

However, the changes in the voluntary sector in last few years affected a radical makeover in the whole scenario. Consequently, they have become increasingly isolated with the support and the resources are hard to come by. The process, language, and methodology to seek financial support have become more difficult and complicated. The gradual shrinking of financial resources and changes in the nature of support available to the sector has brought them at a crossroad. The simple procedures of resource mobilization have been replaced by complicated terminologies and processes like log-frames, result based management, RFPs and power point presentations. The competition to grab meager resources among VOs has even percolated down to district and sub-district levels. There is sense of competition, helplessness, and inequality within the sector. Many of these small organizations are at the mercy of district and block level officials to get support to fulfill their visions.

In addition, the arbitrary interpretation of project procedures by the line departments and lack of information among smaller VOs have created perfect recipe of corruption and harassments. We all know that partnership with government is being replaced by sub-contractorship, wherein tenders are being floated. Many a time, small organizations find it difficult to respond to these tenders in the required language and with proper documentations. Worse still, the recently emerged trend of demanding security money for government projects has become a serious menace. It is hard for the small organizations to provide the required security deposit to participate in the tendering process for the government projects. The government of India argues for local fund generation but these organizations seldom get access and opportunity to interact with potential donors. Unfortunately, the vacuum of educational support and hand-holding is being filled by so called ‘consultants’, who, at times provide illegal shortcuts and there are also instances where they have taken the smaller organizations for a ride…!

Another significant change is the stricter regulatory environment in which the voluntary sector has to operate now. Although, organizations of all sizes are effected by them, the serious blow is to the very existence of smaller fraternity. There are instances wherein in almost every month, they are being inspected by the various law enforcing agencies. Even when the officials from Intelligence Bureau visit them to verify mandatory FCRA requirements, the villagers start feeling that something is amiss with the organization. This is even more true to those VOs operating in so-called disturbed areas. They are also required to report their activities on almost daily basis. Not only their staff is harassed but even head of the organizations are asked to give written undertaking that they would not work in a rights based approach.

Even at the peak of unregulated economy, the governments across the world introduce special provisions for small-scale industries. The Indian government and the large corporations are always protective about the small-scale industries, but why we do not have such policy in the voluntary sector? Today, we need to lobby with our government to introduce special provisions for safeguarding the small scale VOs. The life and spirit of voluntary sector is dependent on small and medium sized organizations. Therefore, we have a responsibility to protect them through a process of extending handholding, earmarking financial support and by promoting partnership. We must make sincere efforts to ensure that the next five year plan reserves some category of work exclusively for the small organizations. We must also lobby with the donor agencies to re-start the capacity building initiatives on the new methodologies, techniques, and concepts of development.

Harsh Jaitli

CEO, VANI

FCRA 2010: Facing the Reality

The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (2010), the sword that hang above the heads of the voluntary organizations in India for the last few years, finally became a reality on May 01, 2011. The rules as they are presented today, in some way, reflect the series of representations, appeals, delegations, and consultations which were carried out for last many years. Devoid of such efforts, the outcome could have been different.

The formulation process, which included delegations to the Home Minister and his ministry, the standing committee, Members of the Parliament, the media and the general public, should be a learning experience for voluntary organizations. It made us to realize the new realities and forces. One of the paramount conclusions that can be drawn from this process is that they are poorly informed about the difficulties of voluntary sector at the grass roots level. Further, it underscores the prominence attached to the page-3 types and ornamental NGOs. Therefore, we need to re-consider our advocacy strategies and redefine our relationship with the people in the power. No doubt, they agree on the thematic contribution of the voluntary sector, but when we negotiate for a democratic space for voluntary action, examples are cited from those deviant players which have intruded into the sector.

The members of VANI have proposed a two-fold strategy to address these new challenges. First, share the new law with voluntary organizations and inform them about their responsibilities and rights. This can be done through regular communications from VANI and through regional and state level workshops, popular publications and updates on our website. Secondly, we have also realized that to influence the policy makers and for the redressal of unnecessary harassments, there is a need to document such cases. These cases will be shared with the Home Ministry, MPs and Planning Commission. They will also be compiled into a “Citizen’s Report”, which will be released in the national convention of VANI.

I would also like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the significant changes in the new FCRA law;

1. Need for renewal of registration after every five years: Those who are already registered will require renewal only after five years, but we need to prepare ourselves. Along with sending the hard copies of the documents, we also need to apply online. VANI is trying to get a tracking system introduced in the online process so that accountability of the department is ensured and there are no incidences where documents get lost. The registration can be canceled due to non-compliance with the FCRA law, false information or doing something which is against national interest. It is highly recommended that VOs regularly submit required documents in time. There are instances where ‘nil’ returns are not filed if foreign currency is not received. This leads to complications, therefore submission of nil returns is very crucial.
2. Organizations engaged in political activities and those who, as a means of protest, take up actions which might eventually lead to violence can also be denied the FCRA. If in the organizational mission or in the actions of the organizations it is evident that organizations aspire to achieve a political goal then FCRA approval could be denied. If decision of the department is arbitrary then, the concerned VO must have enough data to litigate. We must ensure that none of the genuine organizations engaged in social-economic change are harassed.
3. In line with Income Tax Act, the FCRA now requires records of six years to be stored for scrutiny. As per the act,, investigating agency cannot demand papers for more than six years.
4. The onus to ensure the source of the currency whether it is foreign or Indian, is on the receiving agency. Hence, from now on, we must have it in writing from the donor whether the currency that we receive falls under FCRA. This is very important, as companies having foreign equity more than fifty percent will be considered as foreign.
5. No permission from department is required if funds are transferred from FCRA holder to another FCRA holder, but we need to ensure that recipient organizations are not defaulters with the department. Permission will be required if funds are being transferred to non-FCRA organization.
6. The provision of deemed permission is gone, so ensuring timeliness from the department is very necessary. Therefore, we suggest that after submitting the documents for FCRA registration either for permanent or prior permission, organizations must keep tab of the time and in case of failure write to department with documentary evidence of the application.
7. Another change is that banks holding FCRA accounts will send their annual statement to the department. This statement will also be submitted along with other required documents by the voluntary organizations.
8. Anyone receiving more than one crore as foreign money is expected to share information through its website.
I have listed some of the major changes in this communication, but VANI will provide detailed information through workshops and website. Sharing of information and preparing ourselves will not only safeguard us from unnecessary harassments, but also act as a deterrent to ‘agents’. We would be grateful if you can assist us with the following steps to take the information far and wide:

1. Please send us emails of your colleagues, friends to whom you think VANI should share information.
2. Regularly visit our website for updates.
3. Mobilize and attend the state and regional workshops which will be organized by VANI.
4. Send us “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs); these will become basis for the popular publication. The text of this publication will be verified and vouched by the department.
5. Send us the details of cases where you think harassments are taking place curtailing the space of voluntary action in the country.

We look forward to hearing from you,
Harsh Jaitli

Accreditation of Voluntary Organizations

One of the significant contributions of the Planning Commission of India towards the voluntary sector was the formulation of “National Policy on Voluntary Sector (NPVS)”. Unfortunately, neither state governments nor the national government took it seriously. In fact, almost all the rules, regulations, and policies made by government contradict the very spirit of the NPVS. However, without loosing heart, the Planning Commission initiated two task forces; one for the national law for registration and second for formulating National Accreditation Council of India (NACI) for Voluntary Sector. The report of the second task force, convened by the CAPART, is already made public. Although, the intention of the report is to be appreciated, it raises some serious questions about the objective of forming the NACI. Some of the observations are as follows:

The report of the task force quite elaborately mentions the effect but fails to analyze the cause. It takes reference of the study conducted by Central Statistical Organization (CSO) about the existence of 3.3 million NPIs in India. We all know that the current registration act, i.e. Societies Registration Act, 1860 is not only old but varies from state to state. It is like the birth certificate that does not make any mention on how many of them are still active. The projected high number of registered NPIs is also due to a mix up of all entities under the same category. Today we have almost all NPIs registered under same act which makes it very difficult to analyze how many of them are Voluntary Development Organizations, and how many are corporate hospitals, public schools, maritime trusts, housing societies or even NGOs registered by the government. There is a need to re-look the law of registration in the country and need to have something in line with Companies Act. Before making such analysis, it is necessary to look at the holistic picture.

The task force report visualizes NACI on the lines of Press Council or Bar Council, but its proposed composition does not reflect its independent nature. The total number of members in Press Council is 28 out of which 20 belong to the press, 5 nominated Members of Parliament and 3 from UGC, ICSSR and Sahitya Academy. On the contrast to this, NACI proposes to have 51 members, 20 from VOs, 10 from State and Central Ministries, 10 again from various government commissions, then rest from industrial associations, ICAI, ICSI, etc. Such a proposed composition needs to be debated as VOs are in minority and that too elected whereas majority is nominated. There is no membership for the networks of VOs rather Industrial associations are included. In the absence of any executive ministry, an overarching law, or department anchoring VOs in India at national level, as compared to Law ministry anchoring Bar Council or Press Council by Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Companies by Ministry of Corporate Affairs, its legitimacy will be questioned.

It is also important to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities of NCAI. Currently, it is very easy to impose another layer of regulatory regime on VOs, but it is very challenging to take a small step to facilitate development of voluntary sector. We hope that this effort of planning commission does not add to the list of another regulatory chain around the voluntary sector. Rather than becoming the tool for facilitating the progress of the sector, the NACI is projected as another layer of compliance by the VOs. The onus of proving its innocence is again with the voluntary organizations, and in spite of filling mandatory returns, like Income Tax, FCRA, the NACI demands not only duplication of information but also proposes penalties parallel to the statutory laws.

The document is also silent about benefit which a VO can get through this accreditation. This process does not provide relief of routine compliance, questioning, or even harassments by the routine line departments. Rather adds another layer to be followed. In fact, nomination of persons from Ministry of Finance or Ministry of Home Affairs could provide some relief if accreditation is recognized by them. There is also need to add a representative from the private sector to help VOs in raising resources domestically. Unfortunately in the current form, this document looks like another “Agni Pariksha” for the voluntary sector to prove their innocence, but getting no relief from the system.

Lastly, we suggest that the proposed framework of NCAI needs to be shared and consulted with the VOs at national and state levels, to ensure the component of ‘independent, self-regulatory and facilitating mechanism’ as suggested by the National Policy for Voluntary Sector.

Warm Regards,

Harsh Jaitli
CEO, VANI

LET US JOIN HANDS

As this is the first newsletter of the year 2011, I wish to take this opportunity to wish you all a meaningful year ahead.

The year gone by has been an eventful one. An open-minded and objective observation of the various developments of the past year will take us to a definitive conclusion that the voluntary sector in India is passing through very critical period wherein not only restrictive laws are being made but also many social activists working within the Indian constitution and non-violent means are being victimized. In an attempt to address this disturbing development, VANI has initiated a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, VANI has started a campaign to educate the sector through the dissemination of latest rules and regulations, and on the other hand VANI is also documenting actual case studies of victimization and harassments from the filed. For this, there is an open offer from VANI to send its team to the meetings of various networks to talk about the issues of concern. VANI has got very positive response to this and already we have participated in number of meetings. In case you want to be part of this, then please let us know.

We are also undertaking studies on the regulatory regime and its implication on the sector. The details of the study are available on our website. I invite you to be a part of this attempt by writing to us with your perspectives and views on the same. Keeping all these in mind, VANI is organizing a national level meeting on February 22-23, 2011 at Delhi.

The ghost of accreditation has re-emerged with the release of report by the task force constituted by the Planning Commission. We all would like to see accreditation; if at all we want it, as an instrument to ease out legal harassments like FCRA and Income Tax. At least, this should facilitate recognition for generating local funds from the domestic donors. However, these two critical questions have remained un-answered with the framework recommended by the Task force. It looks like an ‘agni pariksha’ for voluntary organizations. Even the membership is distributed un-evenly with more members from sectors other than those it is supposed to regulate. VANI has taken up this issue of proposing accreditation which does not contribute towards creating an enabling environment for the sector, but we propose a process of accreditation that gives equal stress and importance to all groups, be it small or big.

The time has come to unite and speak in single voice to safeguard the space and strength of voluntary sector. We hope that you will send us your suggestions and guide us in this task

Harsh Jaitli, CEO,
Voluntary Action Network India
New Delhi

SOS: Save Our Sector

The distress signal from the ships caught in turbulence is known as SOS, and this year the monsoon session of Indian Parliament created turbulence for the voluntary sector in India. Not only the new Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Bill was passed after a brief debate by both houses of the Parliament, the proposed Direct Taxes Code was also introduced. Both of these regulations are contradictory to the assurances given by the same government in “National Policy on the Voluntary Sector”. In fact, this is a huge leap taken backward from the recommendations of second Administrative Reform Commission report.

Interestingly, when the telecommunication scam rocked the house in winter session, it was an eye opener not only for the voluntary sector, but also for the whole country as well. The tapes and telephonic conversations leaked in the media have reminded us once again how policies are framed in this country with the nexus between media, power fixers, politicians and the corporate. The stories are framed and planted by reputed journalists to benefit their ‘clients’, whereas we still starve for space in mainstream media to highlight social causes. It is on the coffee tables of power elite that the policies are made, and still we dream of changing them with evidence based advocacy.

While witnessing this period of scam-age, I am not surprised to see more stringent FCRA on one side, and more liberal FEMA or DTC tilting towards a particular group or section of the society. We can now understand why we have Ministry of Corporate Affairs and not even a department for voluntary development organizations in the entire machinery of government. It may be the reason why in every consultation the babus and corporate bosses meet like old lost friends and we are seen as aliens from the forbidden land. Interestingly, when this group is tired of using words like shares, profits, takeovers, investments, etc in their conversations, they have also started using equitable growth, holistic development, as mouth fresheners. Almost every month we have award ceremonies sponsored by the corporate and hosted by media for outstanding personalities from their own sectors. The relationship between the corporate, media and the government is a global phenomenon and this is the reason why we have members of corporate and the media in the official delegations of head of the government when they visit any other country. Somehow, it is believed by this group that nations can be built only by them and civil society has no role to play.

I am sure that things will change in near future and these developments can only reinforce our commitment to struggle for the desired world of equity and justice. Although, today there is a huge gap between the desired world and the actual world where we operate, our perseverance will definitely show result.

To facilitate initiatives in this direction, VANI has been conducting consultations with a number of voluntary organizations throughout the country to solicit their inputs on ways forward. We concluded that our primary role is to protect and nurture the space and the right to associate. We need to unite regardless of our thematic missions, inform each other about the possible options and develop a safety net of information exchange and mutual learning. More than ever before, we need to share the infrastructure, human and financial resources so that we can collectively and individually achieve our goals. Further, we need to educate the neo-rich section of our society which is undoubtedly vocal but is currently mesmerized by the glamour of visible and ornamental signs of development. We must now be more vocal about the achievements and challenges of the voluntary sector with media, with policy makers and also with other stakeholders.

I am sure that you will not only read this note, but also send me your response on the same.

Harsh Jaitli
CEO, Voluntary Action Network India
New Delhi

Media as Medium of Social Change

Mass media has always been the partner of voluntary organizations to achieve social and economic change. It is not only a tool for public education but also an instrument for influencing policy makers. The advocacy groups use it to share their concerns whereas grass roots groups highlight their field experiences through mass media. But since last few years the change in very structure of media has made it very challenging for voluntary organizations to get social issues highlighted. The viability compulsions changed has changed the business model of how the media is structured. The rising cost and competition of survival led to either takeover by corporate houses or drastic reduction of workforce. The revenue from advertisements plays much larger role in the costing of a newspaper or magazine. No doubt the emergence of electronic media changed the way in which news is delivered at short notice, but it is very costly. This medium changed the very face of news-reporting where latest development could be shared with world over in few minutes. The electronic medium played important role in highlighting the atrocities on marginalized, corruption in the system and opinions of social leaders. It is rightly said so that media today can create or demolish any government. It is also a fact that to start a news channel heavy investment is required and to ensure the returns they are forced to participate in race of maximizing their viewership. For the recent months even media has debated over the rising trends of paid news, advertorial, and race for TRPs. Even today large portion of media is concern about their social responsibility.

The similarity between media and voluntary sector is that both of them give voice to the voiceless. The friendly relationship between media and voluntary organizations has resulted in many policy changes. The voluntary organizations engaged in advocacy have gained tremendously by engaging likeminded journalists in creating public opinion. The reports and other findings are shared with them along with organizing exposure visits. Unfortunately, now both the partners are struggling for their survival. The voluntary organizations are facing huge funding cuts along with shrinking spaces; the media is depended on its revenue resources and consequential pressures. The time has come that both partners of change redefine their relationships and identify new ways of working with each other. Rather than going through sinking feeling many voluntary organizations have adopted changes in their approach towards media. The programme staffs of voluntary originations are being trained to write press briefs, new features and mechanism of feeding information regularly. Charkha is one such successful initiative by the voluntary sector. Rather than having one time event, the organizations are trying to have ongoing relationship of information sharing. We need to search for journalists who are committed to the cause of social change and ready to write. Such friends in media must be nurtured. In order to get space in the news slot weather in electronic media or in print, even journalists has to negotiate with content editors. The voluntary organization now believe that your information must be accurate, simple and to-the point. Even today not all believe in advertorials, paid news or blind race of TRPs. We need to indentify such friends in the world of media.

For years, mass media and voluntary organizations have worked together and will continue in future also, but it will depend upon understanding each other’s reality. We need to remind the social responsibility to journalists being trained in institutions. They could be offered field exposure opportunities. They could also be engaged in field interventions ongoing basis. VANI is committed to help, support and facilitate such constructive engagement between both the pillars of change. Please suggest us how you think VANI can play more active role in strengthening the relationship between media and voluntary organizations.

Is India a receding Democracy?

 The last fortnight was very significant period for the voluntary sector in India. Suddenly, the Ministry of Home Affairs took out the FCRA bill from its cold storage (2006) and introduced in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. Both houses passed it within short duration. The future of Civil Society was sealed and verdict was passed.  This was done in spite of many bills of national importance are still pending.  This bill was made in contradiction of “National Policy of the Voluntary Sector” framed by same government in 2007 and also recommendation of 2nd Administrative Reform Commission (2008). The conclusion of government’s argument was that in current format we are not able to tame the sector, which is working against national interest.  It argued for un-defined term ‘national interest’ which must be inserted in the bill so that officials can get absolute freedom to define it on case to case basis that to with right to conceal the reason.  The second argument was build on the fact that although genuine voluntary organizations submit their returns every year, but we want them to queue in front of our office every five year with fresh applications. After all it is a power relationship, the Ministry has right to make sector crawl. 

Anyhow, now the cards are open in front of us and we need to work within the rules which will be made shortly.  In this news letter, we have given the details of new FCRA and its implications on voluntary sector.  The first and foremost task is to provide information to all the FCRA holding organizations to follow the new instructions and keep their records in order.  Once the final notification is done VANI will print the guidelines for voluntary organizations.  The second task is to demand accountability and transparency from the officials. We must demand explanation of rejection if any, as law of natural justice demands reason for punishment.  We need to educate our members of Parliament about the true state and condition of Voluntary organizations.  The debate reflected on misconceptions about the sector which are formed by the aberrations caused by various types of entities registered in same category.  We appeal all organizations to keep VANI secretariat informed about the issue related to FCRA. VANI will continue its campaign to safeguard Indian voluntary sector. VANI is committed to serve and support all the voluntary Organisations, who are working for the betterment of the marginalized of India within the constitutional framework of India.

THE FCR- Bill, 2010

S.N Issue What NGO’s Need to do…… What Government will…..
1. Process of Registration (Clause 12) A person/ organisation have to make an application for giving a grant of certificate or application for permission. The central government has the power to reject an application if the application does not meet the specified conditions in the clause. A sub-clause has been added that if the central government deems it fit to register a person making an application, it may do so within 90 days of receiving the application.-If permission is not given within 90 days, the central government has to give reasons in writing.- A person shall not be eligible for permission if the certificate has been suspended and such suspension continues till the date of making the application.
2. Renewals of the certificate of grant Every person who received a certificate shall have to have the certificate renewed within six months before the certificate expires. The certificate shall be renewed for a period of five years. The central government shall renew the certificate within a period of 90 days from the date it receives the application. If renewal is not done within 90 days, the reasons for the same shall be communicated to the applicant. Renewal can be refused on grounds of violating the provisions of the Bill or rules made under it.
3 Transfer of foreign contribution (Clause 7)

 

There was a prohibition on the transfer of foreign contribution to another person, unless the other person was also registered under the Bill. Now, a person can transfer foreign contribution to another person who has not been registered under the Bill. The transfer has to be made with the prior approval of the central government.
4. Use of foreign contribution for speculative business
(Clause 8) 
Organisation can use Foreign contribution/ income from foreign contribution for businesses and activities that are specified by the Government. Earlier the Bill prohibited the use of foreignContribution or income from foreign contribution shall not be used for speculative business. However, now a sub-clause has been added allowing the central government to specify businesses or activities that may be classified as speculative.
5. Issue: Penalty for making false statement or giving false accounts
(Clause 33)  
There will be a penalty imposed for making false statements and giving false statements The maximum amount of imprisonment has been reduced to six months.
6, Notifying an organization of a political nature
(Clause 5)   
The Bill bars organizations of a political nature from accepting foreign contributions.However, Before declaring an organization of a political nature, the central government has to give a notice to the organization concerned, and after considering their representation may make an order declaring the organization of a political nature. As per the new bill, a sub-clause has been added providing a time-limit within which the central government has to make the order. The order has to be made within 120 days of giving a notice to the concerned organization. If the order is not made within 120 days, the central government has to give reasons in writing and can then make the order within a further period of 60 days.
  Sources: FCR Bill-2010, PRS, VANI critique paper on FCRA, NPVS