NGOs are non-profit organizations that operate independently of any government support. NGOs are also referred to as civil societies and are organized on community lines, national and international levels to serve social or other goals including humanitarian or environmental causes.
Eg: treatment center for leprosy patients run by Baba Amte in central India.
Eg: Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Campaign), an organization that opposed the construction of a series of large dams in a large river valley of central India.
Eg: Centre for Science and Environment which engages in environment related works.
Important Role Played by NGOs
- Key Drivers of intergovernmental negotiations – ranges from regulation of hazardous wastes to a global ban on landmines and the elimination of slavery.
- Promotes legal reforms – pushes government to undertake important reforms through legislations affecting rights and services for vulnerable sections of the society.
- Helps in Capacity Building and filling development deficit in diverse sectors – health, education, environment awareness, social inclusion, skill enhancement etc.
- Helps alleviation of Poverty & Hunger
- Supplements electoral democracy – by updating governments regularly of public opinion in favor of certain issues or concerns on certain welfare schemes.
- Ensures Community Participation by raising awareness on important national, Regional or Local Issues – helps to strengthen participatory democracy in India.
- Helps government to understand challenges of industry – e.g.: Finance Ministry organize sessions with FICCI, IFCI to understand concerns and challenges of different industrial sector
- Competition among civil societies is beneficial and productive for citizens & government.
- Provides platform for vulnerable sections to raise their voice – e.g., concerns of prostitutes, LGBT, HIV victims, victims of custodial torture, manual scavenging, Dalit violence
- Ensures Women Empowerment by providing livelihood measures
- Voluntary sector can bring a fresh perspective and ability to develop alternative solutions.
Criticism of NGOs
- Unnecessary PIL filed in Courts without sufficient evidence. This has led to an increase of PIL culture in the High Courts & Supreme Court.
- Promote Vested Interests of groups whom they wish to support.
- Elite capture of NGOs: They often function as agencies for the glorification of individuals.
- Some NGOs involved in misuse of foreign funding received under FCRA.
- Create additional pressure on the government by providing misleading arguments.
- Cannot be said to be truly democratic as they represent a very small section of the society including those who fund their functioning.
- Strengthen the voluntary sector and facilitate an enabling framework for the voluntary sector and rebuild faith and appreciation towards it.
- A nodal ministry for the voluntary sector should be created to ensure uniform reporting guidelines and to open one single registration window for all development organizations. It would also focus on formulating laws and legislations that are in line with the policy. It will also ensure a platform for a continuous dialogue between government and voluntary sector.
- Capacity building must be carried out to ensure working standards and adaptability. Sense of volunteerism and the feeling of doing good must be restored among youth.
- Behavioral change of government officials and corporate sector towards the voluntary sector is also necessary to maintain a mutual respect between the sectors.
- Government should encourage Voluntary sector participation in national programs and ensure mutual trust.
- A National Accreditation Council should be established that will assure quality standards adherence, accountability, transparency and trust in the Voluntary sector.
- A clear definition for the Voluntary sector needs to be established. The loose inclusion of entities such as private hospitals, religious associations, schools, sports clubs, RWAs along with Voluntary Organisations has swelled perceived numbers and their credibility. Thus, a clear delineation of these entities is required.
- Provisions of FCRA Amendment Act, 2020 needs to be eased to enable procurement of funds from foreign agencies. This will help in sustenance of them.
FCRA (Amendment) Act, 2020
NGOs and the voluntary sector have raised many concerns against the amendments to the FCRA (Amendment) Act, 2020. They allege that the provisions will stifle the sector and make it harder for them to operate.
1. Forbids a recipient of foreign contribution from transferring the same to any other entity.
2. Reduces the limit of usage of foreign contribution for administrative expenses from 50% to 20%.
3. Center can direct an organization to not utilize foreign contributions pending an inquiry on suspected violations.
4. Foreign contributions must be deposited in an FCRA account created in the specified branch of the Scheduled Bank, which was later notified as the New Delhi Branch of SBI.
5. Center to obtain Aadhaar numbers of key functionaries of organizations for approval.
6. Suspension of NGOs in case of non-compliance.
7. Surrender of FCRA registrations.
Arguments in favor
1. Some foreign powers and non-state actors continue to take up activities that amount to interference in the internal polity of the country with ulterior designs.
2. Ensuring effective monitoring and for ensuring accountability of the recipient association, the transfer of foreign contribution has been prohibited.
3. NGOs are expected to grow on the strength of their own genuine work undertaken for fulfilling societal needs.
4. NGOs lack inner democracy and siphon off to pay the owners of NGOs very high salaries. Thus, reducing the limit on administrative expenses is necessary.
5. Some NGOs were routing foreign contributions to other entities. Approval to receive foreign contribution is granted for a specified purpose. However, if diversion of funds is allowed, it will be difficult to monitor the ultimate purpose for which funds are utilized.
6. FCRA is sovereignty and integrity legislation, with the overriding purpose to ensure that foreign money does not dominate public life as well as political and social discourse in India.
7. It is difficult to monitor foreign contributions when branches receiving foreign contributions are spread across the country. To make it easy for NGOs in complying with this requirement, the Centre has put in a system that accounts can be opened without needing to physically visit Delhi.
Criticism of the Amendment
1. Provisions are blanket in nature.
2.It is wrong to color all foreign contributions as terror financing or for illegal activity such as money laundering.
3. Many Indian citizens want to contribute to the development of their country.
4. Against equality: Policy keeps making access to FDI easier at the same time foreign contribution regulations are being made harsher.
5. Choosing only one bank, one branch in one city for foreign contribution does not seem logical.
6. Centre cannot have a free pass in the name of national security. Centre needs to show and establish how national security is affected and how it is subserving terrorism etc.
7. The blanket ban on transfer of assets such as money and donations
8. Many NGOs are doing exceptional work across the country and they are harmless as they have never been found to be violating any legislation.
A balance must be drawn between objectives sought to be achieved by legislation and rights of the voluntary organizations to have access to have foreign funds.