Recently many newspapers have written about proposed amendment to FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 1976). Some of the commentators have mentioned four major objections to the proposed FCRA Bill, and they are : (1) it is ineffective in dealing with misuse of funds as it is possible to get funds through hawala route; (2) it will curb the efforts of genuine NGOs from accessing funds from abroad; (3) an amendment to FEMA can cover all foreign exchange transactions; (4) misuse of powers by the bureaucrats and politicians. These are valid objections and can be said about most of the legislation?ineffective legislation, curbing the rights of citizens, other legislation can deal with it, and misuse of powers.
However, we have to see the background of the proposed bill. A report in the Indian Express (10/11/06) under the headline, ?NGO clean up: 8000 under watch? stated that 32,000 NGOs have received Rs. 6,000 crore in the year 2006-07, that 8,673 NGOs have not notified required returns, and at least two have misused the funds?conversion activities. The very fact that over 8,000 NGOs (25 per cent of the registered NGOs) have not filed the returns gives rise to suspicions about their credentials. These suspicions get confirmed when we hear reports in newspapers about the five-star life-style of some of the NGOs who flit from one international conference to another. We have also heard about one-man NGOs mostly floated by bureaucrats and politicians. Sometimes one wonders what is there to show for Rs. 6,000 crore that has been coming to Indian NGOs for the last so many years. It reminds the famous observation made by the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that only 15 paise out of one rupee allotted by the government to rural welfare reaches the intended recipients.
Reviewing a book, NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-National Industry, veteran journalist M.V. Kamath observed in the Free Press Journal (October 1, 2006) that some of the NGOs are being supported by nation-states, globalists and groups (both secular and religious) that have transnational ambitions. They seek to influence and manipulate Indians to their way of thinking. This started with the Cold War when USA and the Soviet Union tried to woo the intellectuals of India to their way of thinking. Now it appears that religious denominations from USA and Saudi Arabia have taken over this task. Is it a war of ideas or war by other means? Ideas are alright, but why funds? As Mahatma Gandhi observed let us open the doors and windows of our home to winds from all directions to pass through but let us refuse to be blown over. Let noble thoughts come from all directions, say Upanishads.
This brings us to the question, do we really need funds to do social service? SEVA, started by the indomitable Ila Bhatt which has changed the life of many poor women in Ahmedabad, did it without any foreign funds. The famous Grameen Bank which transformed the life of poor women in Bangladesh was started with some personal money of Nobel Laureate Mohammed Unis. Social service requires initiative, sympathy and selflessness. Money follows.
A report in the Times of India (16/1/07) made pathetic reading. The report stated that only 37 per cent of the budget allotted to the development activities by the Government of Maharashtra were used in nine months (till December, 2006). This is the government elected to serve aam aadmi! The various government departments were able to use Rs. 6,251 crore out of a total budget of Rs. 18,729 crore in nine months. These funds were allotted for public health, tribal development, social justice, environment, animal husbandry, dairy development, fisheries etc. These are the areas which can uplift the poor. If any NGO genuinely wants to promote social welfare, here is an opportunity to be the link between the poor and the administration. This does not require funds but of course it requires dedication and hard work. Any takers?