Indian Government’s Crackdown on NGOs

By Sai Madhurika Mamunuru

Over the past year, the Government of India has revoked the licenses of nearly 9000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India. According to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, NGOs are expected to report details of donations received from abroad. These organizations, the government claims, failed to comply with the regulations even after being issued a notice.  This “crackdown” by the Indian government comes at a time when other Asian economies (all of them, democracies) are becoming increasingly intolerant of organizations that contest the policies and practices of the State.

As many were quick to point out, the crackdown is a clear attempt to stifle dissenting opinion and prevent debate and action. NGOs often act as a check on the authority of the government by scrutinizing and rallying against unjust policies. They may also fill in for both the government and the market in providing services that neither takes interest in. Revoking licenses and cutting off foreign funding is, undoubtedly, a sure shot way of unarming these organizations and creating a sense of fear in civil society.

That said, the argument is perhaps not as black and white as it may first appear. The non-profit sector in India, which now consists of 3.2 million organizations, must see a more conscientious legal oversight and a wider political debate. Legal oversight ensures that organizations are held accountable for the funds they receive from domestic as well as foreign sources. Similarly, a wider political debate about their functioning will ensure that we can build a more robust civil society that doesn’t presume the automatic benevolence of any organization that operates for objectives other than profit.

Indeed, not all NGOs stand by their stakeholders in rallying against discriminatory policies. NGOs such as Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Maharogi Sewa Samiti and Prajwala started off as grassroots movements that worked tirelessly for their intended beneficiaries and duly reflected their opinion. But, a lot of other NGOs that urban India has seen sprout, are led by the elite and end up taking both the opinions and needs of their stakeholders for granted.

In conclusion, Indian civil society must not resist (or fear) legal scrutiny of the non-profit space. What we must demand instead is a greater transparency and fairness on the part of the government in its oversight of the sector. Compliance with the law and public scrutiny will only go on to strengthen the sector and give it greater legitimacy.