Friday, July 6, 2012

Civil society rip-off

Sangita Jha/ New Delhi

Central government grants to civil society organizations found being used for building private residences

At a time when the government is banking more on non-governmental organizations to connect with people in remore areas, it's natural to ask if the objective is really being served. A number of representatives of the NGOs, claiming to be engaged in genuine works, often lament that their non-deserving siblings pocket the money. The nexus involving politicians, bureaucrats and NGOs is all known and is considered the root of the malaise.
The general refrain within the NGO circle, that there are too many black sheeps apong them, was confirmed in a recent random survey carried out by the Union ministry of tribal affairs. The conclusion arrived at after a number of field survey and examination of the official papers revealed that there is a serious malfunction in the delivery of the services for which the NGOs are paid by the government.
This is clearly a rude shock to the government, which is nowadays more inclined to nabk on the NGOs to fill the vacuum caused by the absence of the government machineries to areas not accessed by the state. The vacuum is more acute in the tribal areas. Sometimes the vacuum is also blamed for the rise in naxal violence.
Recent reports emanating from the Ministry of tribal affairs claimed that the officials having unearthed the malpractice wherein the NGOs have been getting funds from the government for over a decade but in return did nothing for which the grants were meant for. What was more startling was that the government funds, which should have improved the lots of the poor tribals, were rather helping the men and women running the NGOs in adding private residential assets.
The story is neither new nor strange. This has been happening with most of the Centrally sponsored schemes, including Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). While the NGO heads were found building private residences out of the ministry grants, Union minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh has lamented the fact on numerous occasions that the Sarpanch and Mukhiya have been on buying spree of Scorpio (a sports utility vehicle) out of the NREGS funds.
In the case of the tribal ministry survey, it was found that bureaucrats changed rules to favour certain NGOs, who continued to receive funds from the Centre for almost a decade. The survey was apparently commissioned following several complaints from members of Parliament, and representations from grassroot NGOs. They lamented that though they were engaged in genuine works the Central funds were going into the hands of unscrupulous hands.
The reports claimed to have found evidences of people pocketing government funds but did not spend for the stated purposes. The officials stumbled upon a doctor couple running an NGO in Thoubal in Manipur, who had been getting the Central funds for about a decade for running a mobile dispensary for the purpose of distributing free medicines to tribals in the far flung areas but they actually were doing nothing and the van did not even exist. Everything was on paper. Of course the officials saw a van with a flat tyre and a beehive inside it. The tribals were definetly not getting free medicines. While there was no trace of log book for the visits to the tribals in the far flung areas, which were never taken up, the doctors did try to fool the officials by claiming that their computer was not functioning for want of power. However, an hour later the doctor couple was getting a logbook manually filled up in a tearing hurry only to be caught red-handed by the officials. Further enquiries revealed that the doctor couple had used the government grants to build their two-storied residential complex.
The flurry of inspection revealed several NGOs akin to one of the Manipur's doctor couple fleecing the government lakh of rupees every year. Interestingly, this was the first of its kind survey on the part of the ministry to find out what was happening with the funds released for the stated purpose of improving the lots of the tribals.
The government has not yet instituted an audit mechanism to keep a check on such practices.
However, there were genuine NGOs too, as revealed by the survey, who were engaged in projects in which tribal students were given free education, boarding and uniforms in schools. Therefore, the generalization must be avoided.
As far as the practice is concerned, the tribal ministry gives grants-in-aid to NGOs for welfare of scheduled tribes, including coaching and allied works. The NGOs get grants for schemes like starting residential and non-residential schools, hostels, 10-bedded hospitals, mobile dispensaries and computer-training centres. The Ministry of tribal affairs has an annual budget of Rs 10 crore dedicated only for helping out such NGOs.
The postmortem of the survey has also blown the lid on the modus operandi of the black sheeps among the NGOs, who connive with the state government officials so that new organizations are kept out from applying for the grants. This enables them to continue to receive funds and since there is no audit mechanism their deeds mostly go undetected. But the grant size which varies from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 5 crore is so big, that the Centre must sooner than later institute an audit mechanism, which would in fact be on the line of the Ministry of rural development's initiative to hand over the audit of the MNREGS to the CAG.
However, the tribal ministry now waking up after the schocker revealed by the random survey has decided to conduct an audit in the states affected by Naxal violence, including Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
Interestingly, the Centre has also unveiled National Rural Livelihood Fund, with an initial corpus of Rs 1,000 crore, to assist the NGOs to reach out the developmental programmes to the tribal areas. However, the Centre would be keenly awaiting the audit results of the NGOs in the tribals areas to take full-proof measures to ensure that the objectives of the National Rural Livelihhods Funds (NRLF) is not defeated.
The NRLF was established after the government realized that there are many blocks in the grip of the naxals where the government agencies can not enter and the only way out to help the poor tribals is by taking the help of the NGOs.
Clearly, the need is to institute mechanism to sift the black sheep among the NGOs out of the system so that those who are genuinely carrying out their works are not denied funds, while at the same time the pace of reaching out the benefits to the neglected lots is also expedited.

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