Status of NGOs:
India has possibly the largest number of active non-government, non-profit organizations in the world. There has been a sharp increase in the number of new NGOs in the past decade in India.
According to a government study, there were only 1.44 lakh registered societies till 1970. The maximum increase in the number of registrations happened after 2000. A recent study commissioned by the government showed that there are about 3.3 million NGOs in India by the end of 2009 i.e., one NGO for less than an average of 400 Indians. Even this staggering number may be less than the actual number of NGOs active in the country.
This is because the study, commissioned in 2008, took into consideration only those entities which were registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 or the Mumbai Public Trust Act and its variants in other states.
It can be noted that a great majority of the NGOs are small and about three-fourths of all NGOs are run entirely by volunteers. About 13 percent of the NGOs have between 2 to 5 employees; about 5 percent have between 6 to 10 employees and only about 8.5 percent NGOs employ more than 10 people.
According to a survey conducted by society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), 73.4 percent of NGOs have one or no paid staff, although across the country, more than 19 million persons work as volunteers or paid staff at an NGO.
More often NGOs are registered as trusts, societies, or as private limited non-profit companies, under Section- 25 of Indian Companies Act, 1956. They also enjoy income tax exemption
Challenges facing NGOs
- Transparency and accountability are key ingredients of Governance in the NGO Sector as these determine operational efficiencies and risk mitigation. Over the years, corporate sector has been able to recognize and implement best governance practices through appropriate institutional framework. However, the NGO sector is yet to evolve any institutionalized framework, which could potentially play an important role in overall development of the nation.
- Of late, some of the local and national NGOs have been found involved in malpractices and acting irresponsibly, thus undermining the credibility of civil society. It’s a huge concern and poses a great challenge to the development movement spearheaded by NGOs in the country.
- There is a huge flow of funds into the non-government organization sector and this requires prudence and good practices to maintain accountability and transparency to the benefit of all stakeholders.
- Although NGOs do internal auditing but for more accountability and transparency, it is advisable to go through external auditing also, especially where public funds are involved. Hence, issues of internal control mechanisms, professionalism, accountability, transparency and financial management must be given impetus.
- The challenge is multidimensional, and is compounded by the ‘unorganised’ nature of the sector, lack of regulatory frameworks and the fact that India boasts of more than a million NGOs of different roles, structures and sizes.
- In particular, the Indian voluntary sector urgently needs self-regulatory guidelines and transparency mechanisms to increase the trust and awareness as to how the philanthropic funds are being utilised.
- The general lack of transparency in the functioning of a large proportion of NGOs leads to aversion in donating funds for charitable causes since the general public is largely cynical about the ‘genuineness’ of the non-profit spirit of the sector.
- The stringent governance standards of an NGO will facilitate the effective management and increase the accountability to its stakeholders including donors, the government and the community.
- It is in the self-interest of the NGOs to realize the fact that to implement a structure of ‘corporate governance’ principles would provide the real value to the stakeholders. Also, this would enable to track the potentially dubious sources of funding coming in for the voluntary sector – an aspect which has gained impetus in the wake of the increased number of terror attacks and extremist activities.
- Recently, the Union Home Ministry has identified some NGOs as security threat to the country.Such security considerations have underscored the rising need of improving the governance practices in the Indian NGOs and exercising better regulatory mechanisms, disclosure norms, and management processes including financial management and budgeting systems as well.
- The implementation of a strategic framework is essentially important in the management of an NGO. The endorsement of such a framework brings in professionalism and internal control mechanisms, which further makes the organization’s performance more effective.
- Developing strategies also include establishing a mechanism of consistent monitoring of whether they are being implemented and linking the results to the organization’s goals.
- There is need to bolster public confidencein the voluntary sector by opening it up to greater public scrutiny.
- The Government should encourage Central and State level agencies to introduce norms for filing basic documents in respect of NGOs, which have been receiving funding by Government agencies and placing them in the public domain (with easy access through the internet) in order to inculcate a spirit of public oversight.
- Public donation is an important source of funds for the NGO sector and one that can and must increase substantially. Tax incentives play a positive role in this process. The Government could simplify and streamline the system for granting income tax exemption status to charitable projects under the Income Tax Act.
- The Government may consider tightening administrative and penal proceduresto ensure that these incentives are not misused by paper charities for private financial gain.
- The Government should encourage all relevant Central and State Government agencies to introducepre-service and in-service training modules on constructive relations with the voluntary sector. Such agencies need to introduce time bound procedures for dealing with the VOs. These could cover registration, income tax clearances, financial assistance, etc.
- There must be a formal system for registering complaintsand for redressing grievances of NGOs.
- The Government should encourage setting up of Joint Consultative Groups / Forums or Joint Machineriesof government and voluntary sector representatives, by relevant Central Departments and State Governments.
- It also needs to encourage district administrations, district planning bodies, district rural development agencies, zila parishads and local governments to do so. These groups could be permanent forums with the explicit mandate to share ideas, views and information and to identify opportunities and mechanisms of working together.
- The Government also might introduce suitable mechanismsfor involving a wide cross-section of the voluntary sector in these Groups/Forums.
There is a need to solicit commitment from state governments and national ministries. A systematic intervention is also needed to get National Policy approved and adopted by the Indian Parliament. The most serious challenge faced by India today is the conflict between violent and non-violent approach of development.
Needless to say that majority of population of India is still deprived of basic fruits of development, but rather than adopting the approach which is more inclusive and look for solutions within the constitution, India is faced by disturbances in many parts of the country. This not only hampers the development projects but also shrink the space for people’s participation to achieve their goals through peaceful means.
The voluntary sector being present in such locations faces the challenge of delivering the services and even mobilizing people on the development agenda. The need of the hour is to work closely with each other for the benefit of the marginalized people, as even today the dream of Mahatma Gandhi has not been achieved.