Friday, April 13, 2012

Can’t paint with the same brush

Sangita Jha/New Delhi

While many NGOs are minting money, genuine ones are struggling to stay afloat

Non-governmental oganisation Aadivasi Seva Sansthan based in Chitrakoot which started its work in the last decade has come a long way. It espoused many causes and spearheaded numerous movements. At times its activists succeeded inforcing successive governments to change policy and some times large projectscould not take off due to their stiff protest.
But there are many black sheep in the voluntary sector. "There are six lakh villages in India and there are 12 lakh NGOs. Not all of the NGOs work for the objectives for which they are formed. A large number of them work for vested interests, including for monetary gains," said Dhirendra Mishra who runs Agrocrats Society for Rural Development in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
Mishra is of the opinion that the move to bring the NGOs under the ambit of the proposed Lokpal is the right step to nail fraudulent lot. However, Mishra also stresses that NGOs can not be run without adequate finances.
"Our NGO have members who are graduates from various agricultural universities. For these people it's a career for them to work for the advancement of the rural parts of the country by utilizing their training in agriculture. When you run an organization with a professional work force, naturally you will require strong financial backing," said Mishra.
Though NGOs have come under scanner for fuelling agitation against Koodamkulam nuclear power plant, their role in shaping policies of government cannot be underestimated. In fact, the Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had told during a round table discussion on role of research institutions in the ongoing Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) that the government would like to invest in them to help them in capacity building. Even member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) and former secretary to government of India NC Saxena had sought involvement of NGOs to ensure objective and impartial conduct of SECC. He has been of the view that the interference of political workers at the local level ensure that the needy are kept out of the below poverty line (BPL) list and non-deserving getting benefits.
"In today's time NGOs are everywhere. I can tell you that each of the MPs in the Parliament either take help of NGOs to connect with the people or patronize them for various purposes. You can not rule out NGOs. So, when the NGOs have mushroomed in such a big ways, it can also be not ruled out that a large number of them may be working for reasons other than their stated objectives," said Manoj Kumar Singh, who runs "Akhil Bhartiya Mahila Jagriti Sansthan" in Delhi.
Singh strongly seeks the government to catch the NGOs with dubious credentials and says that they should be shut down without any hesitation. However, Singh is also of the opinion that NGOs cannot function without adequate funds.
"We employ MBA graduates who prepare detailed project reports as mandated by the government agencies. We have to have adequate infrastructure, which includes computers. With projects flowing in along with financial gains, the NGOs too expand in manpower along with possibility of some of the people joining in the organization to make quick bucks than to serve the people," said Singh matter of factly.
However, the NGOs, who have also been called civil society, have much larger role to play in places when government agencies alone cannot deliver the benefits of its various schemes. In the Bundelkhand region, which had witnessed droughts years after year, people rely more on NGOs to deliver them the guidance in carrying out their activities. One of such NGOs, Aadivasi Seva Sansthan based in Chitrakoot, has been carrying out the work on watershed development for the past 16 years.
"We have annual budget in the range of Rs 15 lakh to Rs 20 lakh, which includes grants from the government and foreign agencies. We have clear objective that we have to be part of the solution of acute problem of irrigation in the Bundelkhand region. We have been building check dams, minor irrigation and watershed development," said RP Singh of Aadivasi Seva Sansthan.
However, there are NGOs who specialize in raising bills and vouchers against non-existent works to get money from the governments, with a number of them being fairly successful also, added Singh. He candidly admits that without funds it's tough to do any work now. "If we have budget with sufficient funding then only we can execute our works. When we fail to arrange for funds, we have to lay off people. Who can work for free now," said Singh.
Clearly, the NGOs have gone a metamorphosis, with most of them based out in urban centres having professionally educated manpower. As Manoj Kumar Singh says that gone are the days when NGOs used to be based out in rural areas where people used to eke out their livings by agricultural works and in spare time they used to engage in public service, the civil society has now become a profession, which cannot survive without a viable business model. Changed times demand changed regulations too and it appears that the lot of genuine NGOs do not mind coming under the scrutiny of the law of the land.

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