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HindustanTimes Wed,17 Sep 2014
NGOs can do little economic damage
Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 13, 2014
First Published: 00:12 IST(13/6/2014)
Last Updated: 02:24 IST(13/6/2014)

A  threat to India’s economic security is a matter of the gravest concern and should warrant immediate action. But to say that foreign-funded NGOs like Greenpeace form the vanguard of this threat suggests that the issue is not as serious as an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report has made it out to be. The IB report goes further to say that the anti-national activities of various foreign-funded NGOs could cost up to 2-3% loss to GDP. These are very serious charges but there is unfortunately nothing on the ground to substantiate it.

All foreign contributions to NGOs come under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and requires the authorisation of the home ministry. Which raises the question: How were ‘anti-national’ NGOs allowed to receive money ostensibly for subversive purposes under the watchful eye of the home ministry all these years?

It is no secret that many NGOs receive foreign funds as indeed does the country receive foreign investment. It is highly unlikely that any NGO with or without foreign funding has the capacity to threaten India’s economic security. Many NGOs have done signal service for the disadvantaged in areas where the government has either been unable or unwilling to engage.

And they have been commended for their efforts. Some of them quite possibly received foreign funding. Greenpeace is on record saying that details of all its operations and funding are available on the website. Protests against coal-based power plants or nuclear plants are perfectly legitimate.

And they would not get so much support if the government had been transparent about their merits and demerits in the first place. Such protests cannot be termed an impediment to economic security. The prime minister has correctly said that he would like as many green project details to be online.

This will surely help in allaying the fears people have about major development projects. Successive governments have not had a very good track record on rehabilitation and relief for people affected by development projects, the Narmada being a prime example.

Simply put, the government tends to be opaque on development projects leading to unnecessary fears among people. This is why protests led by NGOs get so much support. The government ought not to see NGOs as adversarial. They should be considered complementary to the government’s efforts.

The IB report will create an atmosphere of distrust and prejudice about NGOs at a time when India needs all the help it can get in the social sector. By all means, take rogue NGOs to task but sweeping charges of such a dire nature based only on the fact that foreign funding comes in for some NGOs is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.


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