Open Letter to NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant: Act if you can, don’t talk if you cannot

This year no considerable pandemic relief work is being undertaken by NGOs because they don’t have money owing to rules introduced last year on FCRA, points out Lucknow-based researcher in his letter

Amitabh Kant
Amitabh Kant
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Shachindra Sharma

Dear Amitabh Kant,

I am a researcher closely associated with the NGO sector for almost three decades. I am writing this letter to express concern over NITI Aayog’s briefing to the Prime Minister on May 1 “on how the Government is working in active partnership with NGOs” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Media reports suggest that officials have been asked to explore how volunteers from civil society can be utilised to reduce the pressure on the healthcare sector by involving them in non-specialised tasks. It was discussed that NGOs could help to establish and maintain lines of communication between patients, their dependents and health care personnel.

Sounds great!

But where are the NGOs to take up this onerous task? You will say that they are there on your Aayog’s portal. Sorry, sir, most of them are just there. Only a few of them are somehow breathing. How long they will survive, no one knows.

For the past several years, systematic efforts have been made to weaken the NGOs. It all started with the mandate for renewal of the society every five years. Then followed renewal of FCRA registration, again every five years. Last year’s measures to open account in designated bank branch, capping administrative expenses and non-transfer of foreign funds to other NGOs have not only demoralized but also practically shut down small NGOs working at the grassroots.

Please remember that many of them were engaged in community awareness and development activities with an overall budget of Rs 10 lakh per annum or even less.

The Government did not stop here. Even CSR funding was made extremely difficult. Every NGO not only had to compulsorily get exemption under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act, but also register with the Department of Corporate Affairs. Then the Government needs PAN and Aadhaar details of all office-bearers. One does not know where the Government’s hunger for documents will stop.

Every other day, the media carry stories of measures taken for ease of doing business. For NGOs, one can see measures to make community service or delivery of services more and more difficult.

I remember in the late 1990s, there was a demand from NGOs to enact a single law for their governance. No one paid any heed then.

Just because an entity is registered as a society, or a trust, or a section 25 company, it does not become an NGO. An NGO becomes an NGO due to its work and character, not by registration with the Government.

For any sector to work well, wrong doers need to be punished. But at the same time those working well need to be encouraged. And this encouragement can come through smooth flow of funds and removal of (bureaucratic) hurdles. There are far too many instances of the second and third instalments of the project cost being withheld and not released by the Government.

During the last one year, the NGOs have become very weak financially and are more demoralised than ever. Right at the onset of the pandemic, when lockdown was declared last year, many NGOs got busy to create awareness, providing food kits, hygiene kits, medical assistance etc. That was possible because foreign donors having offices in India were quick to provide funds to grassroots NGOs and allowed them to use the money available with the NGOs for other planned activities for this cause.

This year no such action is seen because NGOs don’t have money owing to rules introduced last year on FCRA.

If you can do something to strengthen NGOs, please do so. But mere rhetoric will not work.

Warm regards.

Sincerely,

Shachindra Sharma

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