A Matter of Economics
By Dr R. Balashankar
Economics is better understood politically. It is after a long time that the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said something very controversial and equally significant that has a long term impact on the future of the country. The context was the Christian missionary sponsored protest against the Kudankulam nuclear power project the first phase of which was to be commissioned in December 2011 and the second phase six months later. The protest over the plant is going on for the last five months. The government has already spent a whopping sum of Rs 14,000 crore on the project and it is not in any position to give it up at this late stage. Protesters, obviously woke up too late in the day, perhaps incited by interested parties. That is the Prime Minister’s insinuation.
Going by the track record, and the super Prime Minister Sonia Gandhi’s well known proclivities for the NGO brigade one expected Dr Singh to back down or eat the crow. Surprisingly, nothing of the sort happened. The attack on the foreign funded NGOs was followed by freezing of their accounts and a clamp down on their leaders, including a foreign national, who was asked to leave the country. India is not new to deportation of foreign missionaries or their activities in sensitive areas. What one doesn’t understand is why the foreign funded NGOs stand in the way of India’s development?
NGOs are supposed to help people get a better living. They can be the messengers of change, modernity, growth and welfare. Unfortunately, in India, they work as the harbingers of trouble, as stumbling blocs of peace, prosperity and social harmony. And it is a lucrative, phenomenally growing industry. For an average Indian, they are a set of elitist people living essentially on others’ money. Government is one of the biggest donors to this powerful lobby. Every ministry has huge funds earmarked for the NGOs. They often get politicised, and become willing tools of the governments that fund them. Post-globalisation, NGO industry has witnessed a staggering growth. Earlier, social service was part of political, ideological activity and we are familiar with, the Sarvodaya, Gandhian and social reform voluntary initiatives like Ramakrishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Sewa Bharai, DAV, Khalsa Panth and so on. These are basically reformist and religious with stunning commitment to national culture and integrity. Parallely, there were obstructionist outfits like anti-dam, anti-mining and Naxalite outrages in the Vanvasi areas. Narmada Bachao Andolan alone stopped the Narmada Dam project for over two decades, incurring a cost escalation of over three hundred times. Thanks to the determination of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, support of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the apex court, the project is now almost complete transforming the life of millions of people in the arid regions of Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan.
Perhaps to please the Congress czarina, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh played havoc with development projects in the country, during his earlier assignment as Environment and Forest Minister. His decision to declare as “no go”602 coal blocks with potential reserves of 660 million tones with power generating capacity of 130,0000MW is one of the biggest ever retrograde steps in political ham handedness. The country today is faced with a major crisis in coal availability that is causing severe disruption in power supply. Consider, how much India has squandered in terms of growth and poverty eradication in the efforts of placating the noisiest of NGOs.
NGOs are supposed to help people get a better living. They can be the messengers of change, modernity, growth and welfare. Unfortunately, in India, they work as the harbingers of trouble, as stumbling blocs of peace, prosperity and social harmony. And it is a lucrative, phenomenally growing industry.
The Home Ministry report shows that in Tamil Nadu alone as many as 233 NGOs in 2010-11, received Rs 10 million or above. In the previous year this number was 291. The usually, reticent PM was not exaggerating when he drew the nation’s attention to dollar driven NGO threat. The government has cancelled licenses of three such organisations for diversion of funds to fuel anti-nuclear protests in India. The FCRA Report published by the Home Ministry reveals that billions of dollars are being received by NGOs in India.
The regulatory framework for NGOs to receive foreign money, (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) was passed in 1976 which was repealed and FCRA 2010 was passed along with the Foreign Contribution Regulation Rules 2011. Both became effective from May 1, 2011. They seek to regulate the receipt of funds by NGOs. The FCRA is managed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Any organisation that receives contributions from abroad is supposed to apply and get approval from the ministry. The new rules were framed to ensure that foreign contributions are utilised for bona fide activities and do not compromise national security. The report of the Ministry for 2010 shows that Indian NGOs received a huge sum of Rs 94,520 cr from 1993-94 to 2009-10. And there were 38,436 registered associations, receiving foreign donations. This number has increased 68 per cent in the last one decade. It is not that all NGOs registered under FCRR receive foreign funds or that all those who receive file their compliance report with the ministry. For example, in 2009-10, 7,275 of the 21,508 NGOs who submitted their accounts did not receive any foreign contributions. This means that only 46 per cent of the associations who received foreign contributions filed their annual returns. Thus, the actual amount of contributions received by NGOs would be much higher. It is likely that such unreported contribution are being used for money laundering, conversion, subversion, terrorist activities or funding protests. The idea seems to be to keep India under developed, unmanaged and poor. During the year, 21,000 defaulter associations which had not submitted returns for the years 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 were issued show cause notices. But the monitoring mechanism is so weak and their political connections so well entrenched that they get away unscathed.