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NGOs under the scanner

Following the leaked reports regarding NGOs and their funding by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), another news report in the New Indian Express mentions an investigation by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW or R&AW) into ‘shady dealings of NGOs’, saying that there are funding patterns that links to insurgent groups in the Northeast. It mentions of a Netherlands-based group, Landlijke India Werkgroep (LIW) which is funded by CORDAID, earlier named in the IB report and says LIW maintains close contact with a number of dissident groups from the Northeast, including the NDFB and ULFA. It helpfully mentions that both the armed outfits have been designated as terrorist organizations by the government. What it does not mention is that both are in talks with the Government with whom it has ceasefire agreements. By pulling up instances of NGOs in the region having their licenses cancelled due to financial irregularities (with 125 NGOs in Manipur getting the axe in 2012 alone), the New Indian Express report smacks of an attempt to color all NGOs in the state and the region with one stroke that says ‘wrong.’
Some have begun to question the timing of the media leaks given that in the midst of all the scampering to defend the track record of NGOs and their activities, the Government has taken the decision of raising the height of the Narmada dam, a move that has been vehemently protested by activists and the NGO community. Another decision is that of easing off rules with regard to the Forest Rights Act and Forest Conservation Act to step up economic activities (that would definitely mean extensive mining, deforestation of forest reserves which have been in the control of indigenous tribal’s) in Naxal-affected states. The earlier Government that was mulling these decisions were met with active protests and agitations from the NGOs but with this very timely leak, the BJP Government is effectively closing the door on an active and unified civil protest. The very clever manner in which ‘national interests’ have been raised by pointing an accusing finger at ‘foreign donors’ means that there will be a lot more voices calling for NGOs who have been in protest mode to go into mute mode.
There is a need to question why protests aimed at major hydro-electric projects that will snatch the livelihood and safe haven of indigenous population, not to mention wrecking the flora and fauna of the area; or those against rampant mining and drilling of forest reserves should be called going against ‘national interests’. Aren’t indigenous populations part of the nation whose interests also need to be ensured or are they just collateral damage all in the name of progress and development? If there is no easy way to answer which is the lesser evil between maintaining forest reserves and other natural resources on one hand and pandering to the needs of energy generation for a booming population, then perhaps the answer lies in whose interests such actions are being taken. If the natural resources of a region or area are to be tapped for the commercial profit of the private corporate and passed on to the more better off region of the country, there would need to be a serious rethinking of whether citizenship is a class-tist phenomenon.
Here, it must be added that NGOs also need to factor in transparency and accountability in terms of its area of activities and operations. But more than not, the NGO sector has also come to take on the nature of a cottage industry with more and more hoardings coming up day by day. Many are run like family enterprises with power of control being in the hands of family members while a great many NGOs are fronted by family members of serving or retired Government officials, bureaucrats and even MLAs and Ministers. Perhaps if either the IB or the RAW had come up with an extensive report on just how many NGOs have links with Government functionaries and how much of funds are being actually translated into action, that would have been more welcome and been an indication of intent to make things work for improving the quality of life for the common man and women. In any case, India’s spy organizations have never been known to work in tandem but in close competition against each other and the RAW investigation could also be an exercise to score a brownie point since the IB has got its own score.
Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem