YEARS AGO, WHEN I MENTIONED I WAS with some N.G.O.s, someone remarked with a smirk on his face, “Oh, then you must have made a lot of money”.
That symbolizes what many people think of Non-Governmental Organisations or NGOs.
They are more appropriately called non-profits in the USA as not all government bodies need be without profit motive and private organisations include even firms working solely for profit. The UN prefers to call them voluntary organisations and an annual Day of Volunteerism is observed
The Supreme Court of India has recentlyasked the Central government to consider enacting a law to regulate NGOs as the present laws were inadequate to regulate them and check misuse of funds. The observation came on a petition by the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) recommending that 159 cases be registered against NGOs for misappropriation of funds.
Present laws regulate only flow of foreign funds to Indian NGOs registered for receiving such funds. Organisations not so registered cannot receive donations from abroad which can, however, come in some other forms. It has been found that much of the funding of terror organisations comes from abroad and that several NGOs, with which eminent persons are connected, had been misusing the funds they collect.
Some Indian NGOs project India as a country mired in poverty and backwardness to get donations from abroad – especially those misappropriating such money. Decades ago many Church organisations collected huge amounts for “saving” the heathen of India by converting them – for which millions in the West contributed.
While many may complain of paucity of funds for social work, it is my experience that for real good work, funds were always forthcoming. I remember going wit a service club team to a small town where the Lifeline Express, a full train with world-class medical facilities, was to be stationed for some weeks. The club widely publicized it in all villages around, got the railways to allow use of a huge loco shed and asked the patients to bring their own bed linen.
Feeling that doctors examining patients lying on dirty beds on the floor was wrong I said cots and bed.sheets can be procured from the town. Several trade associations and the local Jain community were approached and very soon cots and beds were ready for the patients. This reinforced my faith that good causes will always get assistance.
When, after the Latur earthquake in Maharashtra, I and a friend started a Centre for Disater Reduction and Management (CDRM). I wanted it to be a data centre which would, on line, provide links to NGOs in the disaster area and logistic plans as soon as the area was identified. For example, few knew that Maharashtra’s Latur could be reached faster from Hyderabad than from Mumbai. No one warned of ‘disaster tourism‘ blocking the roads. More about it later.
A disaster like an earthquake which caused very vast damage to life and property could involve several NGOs. The ‘first responders’ could provide rescue and relief, but later different organisations that undertake reconstruction, provide for food and other needs, look into legal issues and even one that caters to the spiritual needs of the people with discourses and bhajans are needed. Separate organisations in expertise in their filed are better than one organisation trying to do everything.
Here is where regulation, networking and a data base with information about all NGOs and coordination between them come into the picture. So the CDRM tried to network all NGOs of the region. Then I found that every NGO wanted to be the one to coordinate and regulate all others and none would join any network unless it is at its head.
The Bharat Sewak Samaj with which I started as a teenager died a natural death after the demise of its founders Jawaharlal Nehru and Gulzarilal Nanda as several politicians and self-seekers used it as a stepping stone to power. Being its PRO in Central India put me in touch with journalists and paved the way for my entering the profession. Decades later, the idea of a regulatory and coordinating body for voluntary organisations has still not taken shape.
With a Prime Minister who understands ground realities and problems that come with poverty, steps may be taken for regulating non-profit organisations and prevent misuse of funds and facilities by them, may now be taken and the fake NGOs which brought a bad name to thousands doing commendable, selfless service, weeded out.
A few rotten fish should not be allowed to pollute the entire lake. Goodness of human nature is not yet completely lost and everything should be done to encourage it,