Friday, February 11, 2011

Red-tapism gripping NGOs

NGOs are considered to be an antidote to red-tapism and a paradigm for efficiency. Studies show the sector is slipping into bureaucratic labyrinthine.

Sankar Ray / Kolkata

NGOs are meant for de-bureaucratisation of public service. They are, ideally, an antidote to red-tapism.

Take, for instance, a programme, taken up by the Lutheran World Service India Trust (LWSIT), to reduce wastage of potable water near the slums of east Kolkata, which was in the interests of economically weaker sections affected by colossal wastage of potable water. Out of 110 roadside taps, LWSIT, found that 74 are without knobs, resulting in uncontrolled flow of water. The LWSIT installed brass taps with a locking system to prevent theft.

Similarly, Pradan, an NGO, appealed to every member of rural household to save a handful of rice every day and at the end of the month, it is sold in order to help the household open a bank account and rid themselves of moneylenders. Small wonder, Pradan got due recognition when its co-founder Deep Joshi got the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2009.

Nonetheless, several NGOs, especially international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), are centres of vested interests, are large and flush with foreign funds. In south Kolkata, an NGO, working mostly in the red light areas, is basically run by an elitist woman who takes away over Rs 25,000 a month but pays staffers anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,500. On the contrary, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee too works among sex-workers, is foreign-funded but its work for uplift of the children of sex-workers, and protecting the sex-workers from the police-goon-political honcho nexus is praiseworthy.

Among the pungent critics of NGOs was CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, who in 1984, in an article had indicted the NGOs as “agents of imperialist designs” engaged in softening up poor peasants and workers and dimmed their revolutionary fervour and thus pushing them into the capitalist designs and unwittingly participating in exploitative activities.

The irony of history was that the CPI(M) and its mass fronts – as also its politbureau member Sitaram Yechury – were fully involved at the Mumbai session of the World Socialist Forum 2004, which was almost totally funded by INGOs, especially Ford Foundation. Small wonder, Karat lowered the pitch of his tone after all this.

Perhaps the most principled critic of NGOs in India is Mumbai-based Research Unit for Political Economy which never received funds – foreign or national. Its journal, Aspects of India’s Economy, prior to the WSF 2004, made a dressing-down of not only the NGOs but their indirect beneficiaries among trade unions. It said NGOs bureaucratise people's movements. Pointing out that NGO-led movements, while claiming to represent the people, are led by officers of the NGOs and are not accountable to the people, nor can they be removed by them; so they are also free to act without regard for people's opinions. “Minus foreign and government funding, the entire NGO sector in India would collapse in a day,” it inferred. There is some truth in it but this is not the whole truth.

Nevertheless, NGOs today are a part of life and some are genuinely committed. The NGOs or INGOs have to be accountable and transparent.

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