In 1984, the CPI(M)’s Prakash Karat kicked off a debate by criticising foreign-funded NGOs. More than two decades on, he takes a softer view, but remains critical of government outsourcing its responsibility. Excerpts from an interview with Lola Nayar:
What are your views on the growing partnership of policymakers with non-governmental organisations?
Government interaction with civil society has become the prevailing philosophy and norm in most parts of the world. In a sense, the government is saying it is outsourcing these activities to various NGOs, for which funds are being provided. It is a form of promoting privatisation, in that the state retreats from its responsibilities. For instance, in health, they say we can’t maintain a good public health system, so let the NGOs run it. Similarly in education, or other aspects of development. On the other hand, NGOs scrutinising government programmes is not bad, as it can bring in greater accountability and transparency. It is a role that we should not overlook.
You had written in 1984 about NGOs promoting imperialistic designs, but later spoke of the positive role they play. Why the change in view?
When I wrote about NGOs in 1984, I was referring to foreign-funded NGOs. I had pointed out that one section of these ngos were actually involved in political activity. Subsequently, in 2004, some of these organisations stopped taking foreign funds. Some even took up issues for building up movements. I said if such social movements are taking up people’s issues, there is an area for cooperation with the Left, as we may be taking up the same issues.
Have foreign fund inflows declined? Besides the government, corporates, too, are funding NGOs.
It’s incorrect to say foreign funds have declined. In 2001, we were getting Rs 4,800 crore. It has now climbed to cross Rs 10,000 crore. The figures we are getting are those that are registered with the home ministry. Actually, much more funds are coming in. It started with foreign funds, and now the government has become the biggest patron. They are doling out huge sums. There is a large area of concern as a lot of funds are being misused and there is no monitoring mechanism, no accountability. I know, for instance, that many bureaucrats have set up NGOs in the names of their relatives. The NGO sector is very variegated, and you cannot put all in one basket, but questions must be raised about how they are utilising money provided by the government. There are companies also giving funds. But being business-like, they keep track of what it is being used for. They have very specific, limited goals.