Agents of change or perpetrators of deceit?

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Agents of change or perpetrators of deceit?

In the NGO bag, there are some rotten apples. They need to be identified, exposed and suitably punished

Last month, the Supreme Court directed the Union Government to undertake an audit of over 30 lakh non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the country. Many of these outfits had received Government funding but had failed to provide details of the expenditure. Not just that, the court asked the Government to recover the funds from erring NGOs and initiate criminal action against them.

The jholawala brigade has maintained silence over the ruling. Had the Narendra Modi-led Government decided unilaterally to conduct a similar exercise, there would have been a furore. The accusations would have been along expected lines: The Government was being fascist; the Government was suppressing the freedom of expression; the Government was seeking to stifle dissent; the Government was targeting NGOs that had the courage to expose the Government’s and its leaders’ past and present misdemeanours. Can the Left-liberals and those others who hang on to their coat-tails, say the same about the apex court?

According to some reports, NGOs and voluntary organisations received over Rs 10,000 crore by way of grants from various Union and State Ministries between 2002 and 2008. And we are not even talking of money they get from private sources, including from foreign agencies. Yet, just about three lakh of these organisations across the country file balance sheets or present their expenses to the Ministries concerned. How is

this for accountability and transparency which NGOs never tire of demanding from the Government?

The Supreme Court’s directive is a tall order by all means. Auditing the expense of 30 lakh NGOs is not easy, and the Government will have to create a holistic mechanism to conduct the exercise. Besides, it has to complete the work by March 31 — a deadline which is unlikely to be met. But a start had to be made, given that several of the NGOs and voluntary organisations, if not all or even a majority, are not just fiscally indisciplined but also that their activities are dubious and not in keeping with the purpose they have officially stated. A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar told the Government, “You have to set the procedure right. If it hasn’t been done in the past, then do for the future. You cannot allow misuse of public funds in such a way.” The court was responding to a public interest litigation that initially sought an inquiry into the functioning of an NGO

managed by social activist Anna Hazare. The court brushed aside a Government counsel’s plea that there was no statutory provision to act against the NGOs. “It’s your money. Why don’t you act?”

Indeed, why didn’t various Governments act all these years? During the Manmohan Singh-led UPA rule, the National Advisory Council, packed with NGO-sympathisers, called the shots. The Prime Minister was helpless. Even so, that regime could not shut its eyes on the allegations that foreign funds were being used by NGOs in India to fuel protests — for instance, that against the Kudankulam civil nuclear plant.

In March 2012, then Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) V Narayanasamy said the Government had ordered a probe into the matter. He told the Rajya Sabha: “The NGOs which are getting the money from these (foreign) countries are actively involved in these protest.” He stopped short of identifying the NGOs involved. Unfortunately, the inquiry lost steam in the subsequent months, although accounts of four NGOs receiving foreign money were frozen. In a rare show of spine, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a television news channel that “…these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply.”

And so, not surprisingly, the US vehemently opposed, three years down the line, the Modi Government’s crackdown on NGOs receiving foreign funding. The Government had cancelled the licences of over 9,000 such outfits for violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). US officials were especially miffed that Ford Foundation, which is based in their country, was put on the ‘watch list’ by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Further, green activists across the globe were enraged that Greenpeace India had been barred from receiving foreign funds. Since Greenpeace India keeps claiming that it does not do business in India with the help of foreign money, one fails to understand its rage.

The Modi Government tightened the screws further by proposing new rules which mandated banks to report every single transaction made by foreign-funded NGOs within 48 hours to the Home Ministry. The rules also made it necessary for NGOs to pledge that the money it receives would not be used to promote causes that conflicted with the country’s interests or compromised national security or scientific or economic interests. Between May and August 2015, according to some reports, the Modi Government cancelled the licences of over 13,000 NGOs.

It is clear that the free run of the NGOs has come to an end. The Supreme Court’s directive will usher in a greater level of transparency and accountability, and at the same time identify the few rotten apples in a basket that is admittedly packed with many good-intentioned non-governmental organisations that are doing wonderful work in various socio-economic and even political sectors. Those that have been pursuing deceitful agendas should have to pay for their crime.

The Government need not be bothered by the negative Press around the world and even in India. India’s interest, and not that of these NGOs, is supreme. The likes of activist Teesta Setalvad’s Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice & Peace, whose foreign funding permission was withdrawn last year, have to come clean. Setalvad’s agenda has nothing to do with social good; it is solely directed to malign Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and the BJP in general. In this, she has been whole-heartedly supported by the Congress, among others.

The charade of doing social good while targeting something else, has to be brought to an end. 

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