Voluntary Sector Vital

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It is surprising that many non government organisations, NGOs, many of which are in very vital fields of grassroots empowerment works, have to still depend on foreign funds to conduct their businesses. Once upon a time India did not have to money to spare for the voluntary sector working for social uplift, but  it does now, so what is keeping it from making funds available to this sector for their work more liberally. No government, except the most authoritarian ones, has denied the need for NGOs, and even the Manipur government at one point made it almost a fashion statement to chant loudly on practically every forum, the mantra of public-private partnership. This partnership does not only define conduct of commercial enterprises, but also filling governance deficits through NGOs. For indeed, among others NGOs, fill in blind spots and other micro governance gaps the government invariably leaves in pushing its broad visions. They also in the true sense of the words represent the proactive section of the civil society, capable of providing the foil to the government, and thus contribute invaluably to the dialectic of the governance process.

True this opposition to government policies can sometimes get hostile, but healthy criticism is what makes any enterprise introspect and grow healthily. However, even if the government thinks these hostile attacks can get counter-productive, the fact is the discretion to fund any NGO would remain with it exclusively. It could for instance draw up some broad but objective criteria for extending its funds to NGOs. Incidentally, all funding agencies, foreign and domestic, have their own conditions for extending their funds, and thus to a great extent, all NGOs are in some way or the other, directly or indirectly, in small or big ways, bound to what has come to be referred to as “donor’s agendas”. But in a free environment, just as the donors can look for NGOs that suit their needs and philosophies, the NGOs too can look for funds that do not impose an agenda on them that went against their own manifestos. Government funds for NGOs in this way would also develop its own dynamics of distribution. The important thing is, since this sector is important, the government must have a provision for funding them. If it is not willing to do this, it must stop complaining or be suspicious of every bit of foreign funds that comes to fuel the work of these NGOs. At the moment for instance, there are many sincere NGOs working in the area of conflict resolution and conflict transformation. Should not the government think this is an area of NGO activities it should promote?

We are not suggesting the government should make this sector its monopoly and thereby restrict or prohibit private and foreign funds available for NGO works. This would amount to killing the spirit and indeed the importance of the sector, for it is predictable how this important enterprise would become just another extension, or else a so called autonomous wing of the government monolith. They would in most likelihood also become outposts for disgruntled ruling MLAs who were unable to be accommodated in the council of ministers. Rather than create a monopoly, the government’s entry in this sector hence must be to break whatever monopoly tendencies already exist in rich donors pushing their visions in the sector. Therefore, if it wants a vibrant voluntary sector, the government must encourage as many different sources of legal and healthy funds available for NGOs. What we are suggesting is, it must also be a big player in this sector rather than be the only player or be a no player.

These are interesting times for India and many other former empires, and then former colonies of Western powers. The tables are turning in the global economic as well as power equations quite dramatically in recent times. India, China, Brazil and many others are bouncing back with metaphoric vengeance. China is the world’s second largest economy already having taken over Japan and fast catching up with the largest economy of the world, the USA. India too is speeding towards the top end and is already in the top ten biggest economies. This being the case, India cannot afford to abandon the voluntary sector to private and foreign funding agencies alone. It is already in it but its reach has been restricted to what are within the government straitjacketed definition of what constitutes “national interest”. This straitjacket must be loosened up and the definition of “national interest” freed from too much of the familiar bureaucratic baggage, which are either staid and unimaginative, or else paranoiac. Let the liberalised economy be also more liberalised in its outlook to governance. It will be for the ultimate good of the society and indeed the economy in the long run.

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