Mr Harnath Jagawat's Artcle on

NEED TO PROVIDE GREATER SCOPE TO NGOs IN NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT


1. Voluntary sector has always played an important role in society from time immemorial. The concept and approach in voluntary work have undergone many changes from time to time. From pure charity, relief and welfare oriented approach this sector has in recent times suitably moulded and equipped itself to meet the development needs of the society. There is hardly any field which is not now touched by voluntary / NGO sector. The NGOs have acquired strong position in various fields at the national and international level.

2. In our country, the role of NGOs in various fields has been increasingly recognized and the Government policy framework on paper encourages the participation of NGOs, but in reality it is not smooth sailing for NGO sector to participate in the development activities. In the same policy framework, one individual officer may encourage the participation of NGOs, whereas another officer may out rightly discourage such participation. Similarly, some States give prominence to NGOs role, whereas some States reject such role. Therefore, the first and foremost need is to institutionalize the role of NGOs in various fields as strong policy directives and the implementation of such directives must be ensured by the Government of India and various State Governments. Particularly, the development departments like Rural Development, Tribal Affairs, Forest and Environment, Agriculture, Water Resources etc. must make definite and consistent room for the role of NGOs.

3. It must also be recognized by the Government of India and various State Governments that gone are the days when role of NGOs was conceived to be confined to the capacity building, conscientisation, awareness raising and mobilization of community. Also the present day NGOs are no longer confined to their traditional domain of health, education and welfare. The present day NGOs in India are very well equipped to take up highly sophisticated technical assignments in various technical fields like water resources, watershed, forestry, environment etc. Large numbers of Indian NGOs are now manned by professionals and technocrats of high caliber. These professionals are infact, in no way inferior to their counterparts in the Government. Under this changing scenario, the competent NGOs need to be involved in all the developmental fields including technical fields. The author of this note can substantiate with several examples in which the NGOs have done better than the Government Department even in the technical fields.

4. The Government has also to be consistent in their policy in respect of the NGOs. While in general, Government of India favours the involvement of NGOs in some important programmes, NGOs are virtually debarred. To quote the specific example, under the new Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), the NGOs are debarred from implementing the special projects under this SGSY. Very strangely, the industries, corporations and international organizations are eligible to implement this special project under SGSY, but not the NGOs. No one has any explanation to offer for such policy. At the same time there is no willingness on the part of the Government, Department of Rural Development to amend this policy.

In the revised guidelines of the Watershed Development, Government of India, there is apparent raw deal to NGO sector. In this field of watershed development where large numbers of successful watershed development projects have been attributed to good NGOs there should be recognition to the role of NGOs in the watershed development, giving priority to proven NGOs, wherever such proven NGOs are available.


5. It is necessary that all the development departments working with Rural Development and Tribal Development should have special and adequate funding provision for the programmes to be implemented through proven NGOs. Particularly, for the tribal regions, which are the most backward region in our country, there should be special policy, backed by adequate funding provisions to implement various programmes through proven NGOs. Both at the GOI and State level such provision should be made, which would enable fast development of such regions.


6. In the Government development programmes, particularly, for the rural poors, the criteria for the selection of implementing agency should be the merit alone and not any other consideration. Whoever has merit, whether PRIs, Government Departments, Government Corporations or NGOs, the work must be allotted to such proven agencies, as it is essential to ensure the returns to the massive national investments.


7. Though our tribal regions and tribal people are the poorest by all indicators, these regions have enormous natural resources in the form of land, water and forests. These resources have to be capitalized through various relevant and effective programmes in the natural resource management to convert these backward regions into progressive regions. This is possible if adequate funds, right kind of programmes and right kind of implementing arrangements are ensured.


8. NGOs operating in more than one State at significant scale should be duly recognized under some procedure by the Government of India and they may be supported directly by the Government of India for various programmes.

9. Often some departments tell us that the NGOs should go to CAPART for the funds. While CAPART is meant to assist the NGOs, several NGOs do not prefer to approach CAPART. Perhaps, CAPART does not have adequate funds to meet the needs of entire NGO sector. The CAPART need to be much more dynamic and responsive to fulfill the needs of NGO sector. Good and competent NGOs cannot wait indefinitely for the approval of the project, nor can they afford any delay in the release of the funds and finalization of the project. My organizations have worked with CAPART and it has also been working directly with various Government Departments. I have no hesitation to state that it is easier to work directly with the Government Departments. I have shared these views with the CAPART authorities also. CAPART has to improve its systems and delivery to be helpful to the NGOs, both in speed and magnitude of assistance. Sometimes some sign of improvement are seen, but they may not be adequate to meet the needs of entire NGO sector or even substantial portion of NGO sector.

9. In this large country, having thousands of NGOs, it is perhaps impossible for a single organization like CAPART to fulfill the needs of the NGO sector. Time has come when Institutions like NABARD also need to open up as a window to the NGO sector to channelise the Government financial assistance / grants. To some extent this has been done recently for the watershed programme in which GOI have allotted some funds to NABARD for the watershed programme and NABARD in turn has involved NGOs in this programme, in some States. More funds could be allotted to NABARD for the watershed and other development activities to be carried out through NGOs. This would relieve some pressure on CAPART and at the same time NGOs will have a choice between CAPART and NABARD. NABARD has a strong network of its regional offices all over the country and it has qualified manpower to deal with the development activities, and therefore, new regional set up will not be necessary to fulfill the needs of NGOs in different regions.

10. While advocating effective and enlarged role of NGOs, it must be admitted that there has been mushrooming of NGOs in recent years, particularly, after the commencement of watershed development programme. Many of such NGOs lack dedication, commitment, transparency and track record. Many of them have been promoted under the political patronage and also by unscrupulous elements. It is necessary to curb such undesirable NGOs. One way is to strictly screen the NGOs at some level and categorize them into different categories so that really good NGOs are encouraged and undeserving NGOs are discouraged and weeded out, if necessary. There could be a special policy for highly competent NGOs with good track record to assign the work through simplified procedures. Gujarat Government has adopted such simplified procedures for “A” Category of NGOs in the field of Rural Development. The Tribal Development Department in Gujarat is also using this simplified procedure. Such simplified procedure could be formulated by GOI and various State Governments for proven and fast track NGOs, with strict conditions of performance, integrity and transparency on the part of the NGOs. It is neither rational nor in the interest of the society that because of some bad NGOs, good NGOs are not allowed to play their role. The Government should have the will and rules to weed out wrong doers and encourage good ones.


11. It is also necessary that at all levels of the Government planning and decision-making bodies, the NGOs are represented. In every DRDA Governing Bodies there should be couple of NGO representatives, nominated on the basis of merit and track record in the respective district. Similarly, in other bodies like the District Planning Board, Tribal Development Board, State Advisory Bodies for Rural and Tribal Development, etc. couple of NGO representatives should be nominated on merit. In some programmes like watershed development and in some States for other programmes also, there is provision for the representation of NGOs at State Advisory Council. But this is not uniformly done for all programmes in all the States.


12. It is essential that there is an active NGO cell at the level of Government of India, preferably in Planning Commission, which may guide and monitor the effective involvement of NGO sector in the development activities. Similarly, there should be NGO cell in each State, which can coordinate among the NGOs and different departments and support the programmes implemented through NGOs. Such set up may be very helpful in institutionalizing the NGOs’ role and also in providing the necessary support to the NGOs.


13. In this age of globalization and liberalization when every field is being opened up for the industries, private sector and multi-nationals, our own NGOs who have proven their worth by hard work and commitment cannot be denied their legitimate role in all the development activities.

20.04.2002

Mr. Harnath Jagawat
Director, NMSWDF