A “bad law” too can drive the good people out. Civil society groups fear that prominent people associated with NGOs could move away to protect their privacy in view of the government’s rule that stipulates them to declare their assets by month-end.
Last month, senior functionaries of NGOs were put on par with civil servants under the Lokpal law if an NGO received foreign funds over Rs 10 lakh or had an annual income of Rs 1 crore-plus, a part of it from the public exchequer.
This means they have to declare their assets and liabilities — down to their bank balance, investment portfolio and jewellery — to the government before July 31. The government has to place the information in public domain by August-end. They can also be probed under the anti-corruption law.
“It is not that they have anything to hide. People do file their income tax returns, don’t they?” asked Rajesh Tandon, founder president of PRIA. “But it is the principle that is as absurd as the effect of the law,” said Tandon, an IIT-IIM alumnus who quit his corporate job in the 1970s to engage in social work. In a single stroke, he said, this order has more than doubled the number of public servants under the central government.
Because every ‘officer’ — the law doesn’t specify who is an officer in an NGO — will be treated as a public servant under this law. There will be millions of people.
And why not, the order would also cover teachers and doctors in trusts that run schools and hospitals too. Ditto for the philanthropically-inclined businessmen and industrialists.
And there lies the irony. A businessman can keep his assets secret when he defaults on loans, but not if they are on the board of an NGO.
Agreed Thomas Chandy, chief executive officer of “Save the Children”. “I am afraid that it may become very difficult to attract prominent people to join as new board members,” he said. Already, Chandy said he had heard of the board members elsewhere planning to quit their honorary positions to protect their privacy. A few already had.
“We will appeal to the government or file a stay order as the time accorded to organisations is very less,” said Harsh Jaitli, chief executive officer of VANI, the apex body of the voluntary sector. The home ministry’s formal notice to NGOs to comply with the assets declaration was issued on Wednesday, just 11 days ahead of the deadline.