It is unfortunate that the government has set out on a witch-hunt by targeting NGOs on the pretext that some of them are anti-development (“NGOs of the mind,” June 30). Instead, it must engage with them in negotiations on how to lead the quest for development at the grassroots level, where most NGOs function. The government should take into account the fact that NGOs are not formations of outside forces, but came into existence due to the exigencies of local needs and aspirations.
The micro-models of development that NGOs have created locally can be absorbed by the government and projected as macro-projects of national importance. For example, the apiculture project, initiated and implemented by the Marthandam YMCA in Kanyakumari district, was later taken over by the government and is now a unit of the Khadi and Village Industries Board. If the government can study micro-enterprises of women’s self-help groups, promoted by NGOs, it can help alleviate unemployment to a large extent.
NGOs are representative groups of civil society and can be enlisted to provide constructive feedback on the government’s developmental programmes, including the elements of inappropriateness inherent in them. The local resistance to certain programmes should be seen in this light. Shiv Visvanathan’s statement that “there is an NGO in all of us” must be viewed in this context.
C. John Rose,
Arumanai, Tamil Nadu
There has been a mushrooming of NGOs in recent years. At last count there are an estimated three million working in India with the more prominent among them responsible for ushering in democratic reforms. According to the Amended FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) 2010, and provisions under the RTI, no NGO can operate in the dark. The problem seems to be more about implementation which the IB should look into. In the end, no democracy can survive if democratic dissent is suppressed. The government must remember this.
I have worked for a Jharkhand-based NGO, where I have found NGOs to be more connected with the tribal people there than any government official can hope to. It is a fact that even in the inaccessible parts of Jharkhand and the tribal belts — which do not even show on the maps of panchayat databases, villagers implicitly trust NGOs more than they do government officials. Government officials are rarely seen in such parts. Perhaps the IB needs to visit such villages before coming up with a strange report. Its report seems to be a capitalist’s report for India and unrelated to the social and emotional bondage of the marginalised.
In 21st century India, NGOs have been a key player in a further deepening of our participatory democracy. So, in this era of astute civil society activism, there are bound to be NGOs opposing certain infrastructure and energy projects, which in general will be then perceived to be exploitative and anti-people. But to have an IB report terming this as anti-developmental is questionable. Development is an all-encompassing term and does not just mean economic advancement. It is a process of enhancing people’s liberties and enabling them to lead a life of their liking. If people perceive a certain dam or nuclear project to be hampering their livelihood, it is for the government to convincingly dispel these fears. Ensuring financial transparency in NGO operations and looking for their involvement in any criminal activity is justified and necessary, but to brand all NGOs as being anti-national is definitely not.