Opinion: Accountability, Towards whom?
Intro: The IB report has questioned the non-transparency and non-accountability of these NGOs on a bigger canvas.
It is for the first time that a kind of debate has begun on the functioning and modus operandi of the NGOs active in India in the name of ‘public cause’. The credit for causing this debate goes to the recent IB report submitted to Prime Minister on the activities of NGOs in India. Until now, these NGOs were branded holy, pious or selfless service organisations struggling for the ‘public cause’. This was despite the Home Ministry report released in December last year that ‘the NGO sector in India is vulnerable to the risks of money laundering and financing to the terrorists’.
There are estimated 20 lakh NGOs in our country including the voluntary and social organisations. The NGOs under scanner or criticism now are quite different from the voluntary organisations, which are genuinely involved in selfless services since long time and monetarily depend upon the local support. The working of these foreign-funded NGOs mainly concentrate on organising seminars on various policy and developmental issues and holding demonstrations or dharnas in the name of ‘public cause’ or democracy.
The phenomenon of NGO is the product of post-economic liberalisation era. Majority of such NGOs are mostly financed by foreign Governments, multinational corporate houses or foreign foundations. In 1990’s when the liberalisation process began, some western countries emphatically argued that NGOs should be allowed to work in India so that they can raise public voice against government misdeeds or anti-people activities.
And the NGOs ‘perfectly’ raised their voice as their masters wished. They acted in such a planned way that none could smell their hidden agenda. It is interesting to note that during PV Narsimaha Rao government, some NGOs criticised the working of Indian premier research institutes and termed them as ‘White Elephants’. After sometime when the government, reportedly following this pressure, allowed these ‘white elephant’ institutes to conduct research work for multinational corporate, that much hyped criticism was suddenly over. The reason of that criticism was quite obvious—research work in western countries is very costly and the rules and regulations of research are also very strict in comparison to India. So, to avail the Indian research facilities that criticism was calculatedly planned. In the same way when any multinational company faces stiff competition in India, these NGOs come to their rescue. There are number of such instances.
The Intelligence Bureau in its report to Prime Minister recently mentioned that Dutch government-funded NGO, Cordaid, was trying to stall oil drilling in North-east. It is well known fact that oil is the nerve centre of development and India is bound to import oil. If oil drilling is stalled India will be in a big trouble. The question is—whose cause the Cordaid is championing? If the government questions its functioning, what is wrong in it?
In the same way, the IB reported the functioning of SP Udayakumar, who led the protests against Russia-supported Kudankulam Nuclear Plant in Tamil Nadu and had ‘deep and growing connections with the US and German entities’. The same Udayakumar contested Kanyakumari Lok Sabha constituency as AAP candidate. He is not the only activist whom AAP fielded in elections, anti-Narmada dam activist Medha Patkar was fielded from Mumbai, Pankaj Singh from Sidhi (Madhya Pradesh), naxal activist Soni Sori from Chhattisgarh, Rajmohan Gandhi from Delhi, etc. In fact, AAP provided a political platform to all such ‘activists’.
As the IB report became public the gang of all these NGOs and their paid or obliged activists jumped into the streets criticising the report. The criticism from AAP was interesting. A press release issued by the AAP termed the IB as a completely ‘non-transparent organisation with no ‘accountability’. Interestingly, this allegation on IB has been levelled by the group, which is repeatedly termed as non-transparent by none other than those who worked with it or have been its sympathisers.
In fact, the IB report has questioned the non-transparency and non-accountability of these NGOs on a bigger canvas. These NGOs function in a manner of a parallel government. They talk about transparency and accountability but never follow them in their activities. They work in undemocratic manners but fight for democracy. A similar activist, Laljibhai Desai, director of MARAG, handed over the reins of the NGO to his wife Neeta Pandya in a quite undemocratic way before joining the Congress a few months back.
Undoubtedly, the NGO sector in India has become a den of corruption and needs to be set straight. In the wider national interest it is necessary that the NGOs are made accountable to the country. They must make full and public disclosure of their funding as well as expenditures. They should also be made answerable under the RTI Act. Apart from it those NGOs which are genuinely working for the public cause should be encouraged.
-Dr Ravindra Agrawal(The writer is a senior journalist)