What hopes NGO would make a change this time? President Abdul Kalam inaugurated a three-day national summit on rural NGOs in Delhi in April. He spoke with much candour and conviction. What he said is that a large number of NGOs that get lots of foreign funds don’t spend them properly. The funds don’t reach the target groups in the grass-roots. Yes, that is what the President conveyed.
What we all know for sure is the fact that all NGOs are no angels. There are rogues and scoundrels as well! Yes, there are many so-called NGO activities that are positively harmful. From being anti-national activities to religious propaganda and also more subtly lots of brain-washing activities in the names of all sorts of new-fangled ideologies and advocacy programmes.
NGOs in micro-finance is an exception. As they are closely monitored by competent agencies. Even today, in the names of so many mispropaganda farmers can’t own land in a clear, legally entitled manner. So much red-tape binds the farmers. In debt and separate situations! So too in getting market access. Why not NGOs engage themselves in propagating contract farming, getting latest market information available at farmers door steps? Our farm research scientists must be made to work along with farmers, students and teachers for a mandatory minimum months in their careers. So on and on..
The summit was organised by the Capart, the apex body of NGOs functioning under the rural development minister Dr.Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. Singh is a senior minister from Bihar and he must be knowing fully well what ails the NGOs, at least some of the big and hard-working ones. Capart has a new Director-General and he too should be knowing what went wrong with Capart under the previous regime.
Given the new mission articulated by the DG, after his travels and interaction with NGOs, it is now royal development, income generating activities in rural areas through SHGs and, rural infrastructure, market access under the WTO regime, technology for rural India and the deployment of IT, empowerment of women etc. Quite a mouthful!
There is a news item about the Central Government banning some 265 NGOs that were receiving central funds and failed to complete projects allocated to them. In fact, 265 NGOs were blacklisted, of which 19 are in Karnataka. The list of NGOs blacklisted for Karnataka is also published in the dailies.
Now, NGOs are wonderful agencies. They have a critical role to play. A society that has no NGOs would be hell! Yes, we need non-government agencies of all types to advance peoples, various concerns, solve various problems of people. Unfortunately, still India is a bureaucratic country, the role of bureaucrats, petty to high sounding pretentious officials is still a bugbear!
The funds received from foreign sources by the NGOs run from Rs. 1865 crores in 1993-94 to now Rs.5047 crores in 2002-23. The highest concentration of NGOs is in Delhi, Tamil Nadu and A.P. Delhi got Rs.881 crores, TN Rs.775 crores etc. The leading donors are Ford Foundation and now may be Bill Gates foundation.
More interesting is the fact the major expenditure item is on establishment! Rs.674 crores, followed by spending on rural development. The largest number of people employed in NGOs work, next only to government jobs. In Government 20 million. In NGOs 19.4 million! NGOs and vested interests! Yes, the funding of the NGOs is much a sensitive issue and there is a feeling and there is much truth that much of the funds, mostly foreign funds are unaccountable! The NGOs are neither under the control of the Company Law or under the Auditor General.
When it comes to NGOs in agriculture and rural development, there are some controversial issues. Take agriculture. In the past 60 years we have made progress in agriculture. But at the same time we witness unprecedented farmers suicides. What are the causes? In our view, we have over-played sustainable farming etc. We haven’t given farmers freedoms to take to market-driven, commercially viable farming projects.