A high-power committee appointed by the Central government on the orders of the Supreme Court has recommended several steps to ensure the “light regulation” of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) so as to reduce their harassment.
A shortened version of the recommendations is now before the apex court, though the government is yet to accept the full set.
The committee recommended that the “registration procedures be modernised so as to facilitate the seamless operation of the applicable provisions of the IT (Income Tax) Act and FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) with respect to NGOs, without the need for cumbersome and intrusive processes.”
Less physical interface
The committee goes on to say that steps must be taken to “reduce the need for a physical interface between NGOs and public officials acting under the IT Act and the FCRA, along with reduction in mutual distrust and scope for misuse.”
The recommendation comes amidst the stand off between the Modi government and NGO sector, where several have been complaining of undue or targeted harassment by the government under the IT Act and FCRA.
The committee, headed by S. Vijay Kumar, a former Secretary in the Ministry of Rural Development, was formed as part of the Centre’s response to the ongoing writ petition filed by Manohar Lal Sharma.
On the apex court’s suggestion, the committee has drawn up a framework of guidelines for the accreditation of NGOs, audit of their accounts, and procedures to initiate action for recovering grants in case of misappropriation.
The S. Vijay Kumar Committee has recommended, among other things, a nodal body to oversee the various interfaces between NGOs and the government, and has recommended that NITI Aayog be vested with the power. “The government has not taken a final stand,” one source said.
The committee has recommended a separate law for voluntary agencies engaged in activities of a charitable or “public good” nature to enable more effective and efficient regulation of the sector.
“Regulation should be ‘light’ and consistent with the fundamental rights, so as to give effect to the objects for which voluntarism is being promoted,” the committee has said.
It has recommended an overarching legislation with best practices that would replace various State-level and existing Central laws. Details of NGOs should be available as searchable database information.
The new framework should enable a “national uniformity” of approach following the principle of “cooperative federalism”, the committee said.