Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Seeking to destroy India’s civil society

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Governance: Government Policies & Interventions

 

Source: The Hindu

Context: This article highlights the importance of civil societies and how recent amendments affect their working nature.

Direction: Keep a note prepared on Civil Society/NGOs. Keep names of a few civil societies working in different fields handy- to be used as an example in Mains answer writing. This is the topic you can’t miss to score good marks.

 

What are civil societies?

As per the EU, civil society means “All types of social action carried out by individuals or groups who are not related to, or managed by, the state“. India has over 3.4 million NGOs working in various fields.

 

Role of the civil societies

  • Plugging the Implementation Gap: NGOs play important role in the promotion and implementation of important rights-based legislation such as RTI, FRA 2006, RTE 2010, and the MGNREGA
  • Support for sectors untouched by the state: g. providing aid to migrants, human and labour rights, Tribal welfare (Nilgiris Wynaad Tribal Welfare Society (NWTWS)), Women advocacy (ActionAid India, Sewa, Eklavya, Sathin, Disha work for women empowerment)
  • Promotes community-based organizations such as SHG, and Farmer’s organizations: these organizations are critical in bringing about changes at the grass-roots level
  • Work as Pressure Group: NGOs mobilize people for their rights as well as educate communities against harmful policies of government e.g. Narmada Bachao Andolan work for the rights of displaced people
  • Bring about behavioural changes: NGOs work against superstition, false faith, Beliefs, and Customs e.g. Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS); or Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith, CEBF)
  • Promoting Environmentalism:g. Green Peace, Vanashakti NGO, etc.
  • All the new initiatives of the government require the participation and awareness of people and there is no better organisation than the civil society to achieve this objective.
    • Involvement of civil society in the Swachha Bharat Mission has made it a huge success.
    • Role of Swacchagrahis has a visible impact in changing the behaviour of people to stop open defecation practices in rural areas.

 

Challenges faced by NGOs in India

  • Inaccessibility of Funds: Government regulation will ban ‘regranting’ of funds to smaller NGOs thereby making them more dependent on government funds.
    • This will be counter-intuitive for NGOs independence and their ability to raise voices against governmental policies
  • The politicization of NGOs: Mushrooming of politically motivated NGOs that act as the conduit for political funds, money laundering, and advocacy is a challenge for Indian polity
  • Involvement in Anti-national activity:g. some of the NGOs were involved in funding terrorism in J&K and promoting LWE activity in ‘Red Corridor Areas’
  • NGOs lack transparency and accountability: Only a small fraction of NGOs have submitted their account statement to Income tax and only a few have a Board of Governance
  • Undermine India’s Development: An IB report said in 2014 that working of NGOs such as Greenpeace, Cordaid, and Amnesty have reduced India’s GDP by 2-3%
  • Loss of registrations: Data suggests that of the 20,679 civil society organisations that lost their registration between 2011 and May 2022
  • Non-utilization of fund for which it was meant: Foreign contribution doubled between the years 2010 and 2019, however many recipients have not utilised the fundfor the purpose for which they were registered or granted under FCRA Act.
    • Department of Rural Development’s Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) blacklisted 833 NGOs for misutilization of funds provided to them by the Government
  • Civil societies are under deep suspicion: In the 73rd graduation ceremony of the Indian Police Academy in November 2021. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had warned budding police officers that “civil society was the new frontier of war”.
    • In 2017 the Ministry of Home Affairs suspended the FCRA license of the Public Health Foundation of Indiaon grounds of misusing foreign funds to lobby Members of the Parliament in favour of tobacco control activities.

 

Steps taken by government:

Foreign Contribution Regulation (Amendment) Act (FCRA), 2020

RegulationsImpact
Restrictions on the transfer of foreign contribution money to other organizations·         It will seriously restrict collaboration between organizations and smaller grass-root working NGO may get starved of Funds

·         This would also undermine the flow of foreign funding and development aid

Restricts administrative expenses to 20% of an NGO’s budgetIt will impact the salaries of employees and the ability of NGOs to draw various experts
Every organization must have its FCRA account in only one SBI branch in Delhi·         This may be a regressive step in an era of online connectivity and digital monetary transactions.

·         It will also impact the fund transfer in remote areas.

 

Increased the power of government officers to investigate breachesGovernment interference may obstruct working in critical areas such as Tribal Welfare in LWE affected areas
Proposed National Council of Social Work (Education and Practice) Bill, which regulates social work educationThis council is supposed to promote ethical behavior amongst social work professionals but may make it much more difficult to get a job in the NGO sector without a degree.

 

These changes are not in sync with the ideals of human rights, environmentalism, and civil liberties (important pillars of India’s Soft Power) as these sectors receive most of the foreign contributions

Effects after the amendment

  • Oxfam’s license was not renewed, a mechanism permissible under the FCRA amendment of 2010.
    • Oxfam was generating widely publicized reports regarding the plight of migrant labourers and the conditions of the poor during the pandemic.
  • The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s FCRA approval was suspended for some time, after which its license was cancelled.
  • The Enforcement Directorate (ED) was used to attack NGOs such as Amnesty International and the Centre for Equity Studies that have worked incessantly for minority rights.

Conclusion

Civil Societies are an essential aspect of democracy; they bridge the gap between the government and the governed.  Proper guidelines should be issued, rules regarding their accreditation and maintenance of accounts should be clearly stated and efforts should be made to have a balance between national security concerns and the need for a vibrant civil society.