Monday, 1 August 2016

Government Vs. NGOs -- Transparency or crackdown?

Watch a heated debate on “We the people” a popular television program anchored by Ms. Barkha Dutt and now on You Tube:
The debate veers around two key issues:
1) Should board members and officers of NGOs be asked to make their personal assets public or is this a new clash between government and NGOs?
2) Is the Lokpal Act being diluted by keeping the heat on NGOs instead of bureaucrats and politicians?

We, at CAP, watched the debate and smiled occasionally and sighed at other times!

In our view, the non-profit sector is far more regulated than the for-profit sector. But, the non-profit sector has always been given a bad name and hanged.

The trouble is, there is no consistency in our laws. Under the Constitution of India, "charity' is a State and not a Central subject. Hence in Western India (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajastan and Madhya Pradesh) we have Public Trusts Acts and rather 'over-active' offices of the Charity Commissioner (who also plays role of Registrar of Societies). But, a trust in Delhi or Bangalore files returns only with the Income tax (and Ministry of Home Affairs only if registered under FCRA).

In Maharashra alone there are about half a million registered trusts and societies (but these also include religious and temple trusts and societies).

Thus, all of Western India files returns with charity commissioner at the state level, income tax at the central level and MHA (if registered under FCRA). In between there are other labour related compliance (including shops & establishments act) and several other registrations and compliances there under, depending of the nature of activities.

It is alleged that NGOs handle “public funds” hence they should be more accountable than the Government or the Corporate Sector.
But, where does government get its funds from? The public, through taxes!
Where does the corporate sector get funds from? The public, through investors!
So why punish only NGOs!

No one is against transparency and accountability at an organizational level. But, why must board members who serve on NGO boards in a fiduciary capacity and without remuneration be compelled to declare their private wealth in public? By what logic or legal definition does a trustee or an officer become ‘public servant’ merely because more than one million Indian rupees is received from a foreign source, which again is private funding for charitable causes in India and to fill gaps in the Government of India’s own delivery system!

Noshir H. Dadrawala 

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