A war of words has broken out between the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) after a Central funding agency blacklisted 3,500 NGOs last week, and a top official alleged there were "plenty of frauds and fly-by-night NGOs" milking the government.
The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) struck off the NGOs for failing to return or submit accounts for loans totalling Rs 10 crore in a dairy project over an 18-year period. And CSWB executive director Smitha Nagaraj went straight for the jugular .
"Running an NGO has become big business. Grooms use NGO licences for more dowry. There's easy money to be made. But when it's time to pay up, letters come back saying addressee unknown," said Nagaraj, who stops short of labelling it a racket.But the NGOs were quick on the draw."CSWB is among the two most corrupt funders around. CAPART (Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology) is the other," said Anil Singh, executive secretary, Voluntary Action Network India which funds its own projects.
"Fifty-sixty per cent of the NGOs to whom CSWB lends money exist only on paper. In Aizawl, there are 500 organisations of the same name which receive funds from CSWB. How can that happen without official connivance?"asked Singh. CSWB functions under the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Nagaraj denies that CSWB has any information about murky goings-on in Aizawl. Even if it were true, she says, Singh should have alerted CSWB. "Cleaning up the stables is a shared responsibility." However, when a review committee, headed by Jyotsna Chatterjee of Joint Women's Programme, said official corruption made it impossible for genuine NGOs to reach out, Chatterjee was shouted down at a meeting of state welfare board chiefs.
Nagaraj says that was because Chatterjee put all the eggs in one basket: "States like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi are doing excellent work. You can't club the offenders with them."
The CSWB 'scam' looks like small beer in the age of Sukh Ram and penalising deviant NGOs seems like a case of snapping the small fish: the biggest beneficiary pocketed just a couple of lakhs, the smallest over a thousand. Two and three-digit defaulters were not taken into account. Moreover, 12,000 NGOs are involved in CSWB's dozen-odd programmes. Which means that a large percentage of them still do good work.
But the crackdown rips the angelic veneer off NGOs who are in it just for the money. "Some NGOs do not implement programmes at all, or don't give figures," said Smitha Nagaraj. "Accounts are the only way for us to judge them." In Bikaner, not one girl had attended a condensed education course that an NGO had claimed it had conducted.CAPART had blacklisted 248 NGOs till mid-July. An official says house and road building, drinking water and sanitation schemes are the ripe areas for venal NGOs. "They are basically contractors in the garb of NGOs. Instead of mobilising people, which is the whole idea behind NGOs, they scoot. "
Blacklisting only means the tainted NGOs will not receive further funding from CSWB which doles out some Rs 60 crore and CAPART which doles out Rs 100 crore each year. But it reveals the lacunae in the system. And the absence of any mechanism to weed out the guilty.
"The system encourages such NGOs. Any 'body' registered under the societies registration Act of 1860 can start an NGO," says a CAPART official. CAPART insists on an organisational profile before lending money. "NGOs have got so clever, they get professional profile-writers to do the job for a fee." The screening system is not watertight unlike foreign funding agencies. Educational societies which run schools like a business can avail loans for dairy development from CSWB; as can endowment societies which run profit-centred temples. The PMO is said to be working on a rating system for NGOs to bridge the credibility gap. But CAPART officials feel NGOs themselves should evolve a self-regulatory code of conduct. According to Anil Singh, a review of funding norms is imperative if things are to improve.
"Most government funding schemes are 20-25 years old. If genuine players are to enter the fray, this has to be reviewed," he says. But Smitha Nagaraj says additional outlays are not in CSWB's hands. The big question: if power has percolated due to the panchayat raj, why is effective implementation still so difficult?