Recent reports by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on activities of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs)) funded by foreign sources in India should come as no surprise. Given the manner in which protest movements against many projects in India in recent years have been supported and funded by NGOs it was clear the only raison d’être for the existence of some of them is causes-for-hire. Even before the IB report other agencies had warned the government that foreign elements were using the NGO route to promote their agenda and impede progress on projects critical to India’s development. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, too, had said so in a muted voice, though he failed to do anything about it.
Now that the NDA government had shown the courage to move against some of them by enforcing laws about foreign funding of NGOs and asked the RBI to insist on prior approval before receiving funds from abroad, self-styled civil society activists have described such a move “restrictive” and “anti-democratic”. It is true that a broad-brush approach to all civil society groups operating in India can lead to excessive use of state power to stifle dissent. The government needs to adopt a more nuanced approach. But if the causes that domestic NGOs take up have merit, they should be able to promote them on their own. This will only lend legitimacy to their position.
The fact is that Indian society is one of the most NGOised in the world and civil society organisations here are some of the most under-regulated entities. Foreign funding is only one aspect of the absence of proper monitoring and regulation of the NGO sector in India. Given the fact that a majority of the NGOs subsist on funding from the Centre or state governments, the government must broaden and deepen the process of their regulation. Proper registration, genuine board composition, compliance with procedures, and well-laid-out policies relating to activities and resource mobilisation are the basic attributes of well-governed organisations. NGOs are no exceptions.