By nature, governments are territorial and they don’t like people or organisations picking holes in the way they operate or the decisions they take. But over the years, they have learnt to live with such criticisms, especially from civil society, and also to collaborate with them in projects. But old habits die hard and so the desire to ‘control situations’ will never fade away. Take, for example, Union environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar’s announcement on Tuesday that the NDA government is planning to introduce a rating system for State-funded non-governmental organisations working in the field of environment protection. Maintaining that this will be an incentive for the NGOs to perform better, the minister added that the government wanted to create an indexation of NGOs for incentivising them wherein “good NGOs” would be appreciated and others who fell back would also get the stimulus to get better.
While the State has the right to keep tabs on the functioning of such entities, a rating system could also be a good way to arm-twist the NGOs if they dared to speak out against controversial government policies. While to many this assumption may sound like making a dash for the goalpost even before the referee has said ‘play’, there are several examples to show that governments are not immune to such desires. The other fear is that such a rating could also end up building a cosy club of ‘conformist’ NGOs. There is no dearth of NGOs that would be ready to toe the government line in return for a secure financial future.
The only way this evaluation system can work is by appointing a third-party evaluator, allowing it functioning independently and accepting the data/report it comes up with. This is how many philanthropic foundations that give grants to NGOs and invest in for-profit social enterprises work. But going by the track record of governments — not just the present one — this will be easier said than done.