Improve the ease of doing civil society work
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Saturday, asked officials to involve non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to keep up India’s pace of vaccination. In April, the government’s Empowered Group-3, entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating with private sector, NGOs and international organisations on Covid-19 response, reached out to more than 100,000 NGOs. It requested them to build awareness about Covid-19-appropriate behaviour and welfare schemes; distribute personal health and hygiene products; identify Covid-19 hotspots; and address vaccine hesitancy.
Over the past year, India’s civil society has played a sterling role in helping people in distress, in certain cases more effectively than the State. According to a June 2020 report, published by Ashoka University’s Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, three-fourths of the NGOs interviewed in the study were engaged in last-mile delivery of relief material such as dry ration and sanitation kits, spreading community awareness, setting up health camps and isolation facilities, and rescuing stranded labour, among other activities.
The government must not only deepen this collaboration with civil society, but also introspect about excessively restrictive measures that have affected the funding regime of NGOs, substantially increased their compliance burden, eroded their autonomy, and weakened their ability to serve. From forcing all organisations receiving foreign grants to set up their accounts only in one branch (State Bank of India, Parliament Street, Delhi) to barring the sub-granting of funds by bigger NGOs to smaller ones that work in the community, from dictating the proportion of funding to be used for administrative expenses to increasing the accountability of largely honorary board members, the measures mean NGOs spend more time battling bureaucratic hurdles than achieving their objectives. There must be regulatory framework, but, like the ease of doing business and ease of living, this framework must improve India’s “ease of doing civil society work”.