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.
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.