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Voluntary Sector: Complementing or Replicating the State?

The 2007 National Policy on the Voluntary Sector aims at creating an enabling environment for voluntary organisations and facilitating their partnership with the government. But it suffers from a major lacuna in that it fails to comprehensively address the central aspects of autonomy, credibility and the nature of partnership itself. Instead of assisting the voluntary sector to take on roles distinct from and complementary to the state's development agenda, it encourages activities commensurate with state approaches.

NOTESApril 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly80Voluntary Sector: Complementing or Replicating the State?Tanya JakimowI am grateful to the PRIA library in New Delhi for allowing me access to their excellent library, and in particular their extensive collection of practitioner-based publications and newsletters.Tanya Jakimow (tanyajak@yahoo.com) is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The 2007 National Policy on the Voluntary Sector aims at creating an enabling environment for voluntary organisations and facilitating their partnership with the government. But it suffers from a major lacuna in that it fails to comprehensively address the central aspects of autonomy, credibility and the nature of partnership itself. Instead of assisting the voluntary sector to take on roles distinct from and complementary to the state’s development agenda, it encourages activities commensurate with state approaches.In mid-2007, the union government announced its long awaited National Policy on the Voluntary Sector (NPVS). This policy aims at improving the engagement between the government and thevoluntary sector, in recognition of the latter’s vital role in the development of India. With 12 lakh operational volun-tary organisations (VOs), a workforce of approximately two crore [Srivastava and Tandon 2005], and their local stake-holders, the policy has the potential to affect many crore people [VANI 2003a]. Finalised after a lengthy consultation process, the “landmark policy”, “formally acknowledges the existence and the role of the voluntary sector” [Tandon 2007: 38]. Most importantly it clarifies what has often been an ambiguous and fluctuating relationship between the state and VOs, and sets guidelines on how they can work together for better devel-opment outcomes.On a normative level, this requires co-operation, not competition. It is now widely recognised that the state and vol-untary sector need to form a strong rela-tionship for better development processes and a stronger civil society [Lewis 2003; Zaidi 1999]. Such cooperation should not be based on replication or replacement of state activities (and obligations), but on the adoption of complementary roles predicated on each sector’s unique charac-teristics. VOs should ideally undertake activities that add value to state efforts, or perform roles for which the state’s size and bureaucratic processes make it difficult. The strength of a policy dealing with the VOs and state relations should therefore focus on cultivating such a division of labour, rather than facilitating the operation of VOs as little more than exten-sions of state activities. It is with this normative approach to state/VO relations that this paper evaluates theNPVS. Making particular use of the lit-erature produced by the voluntary sector and academic texts, it outlines the areas in which VOs can usefully contribute to development processes in partnership with the state. It then examines three issues that need to be addressed in order for them to do so: autonomy, credibility and the nature of the partnership itself. I find that while the policy is a step in the right direction, it fails to address more complicated issues of ideational autonomy and identity. It is therefore conducive to replication of state approaches and activities, rather than encouraging a distinct and complementary role for the voluntary sector. 1 Distinctive and Complementary RolesInternational enthusiasm for VOs has been based on presumed qualities of innova-tiveness, flexibility and efficiency, with subsequent activities that are value-driven and people-centred [Korten 1990; Fowler 1997]. This is in contrast to the state, perceived as inefficient, bureaucratic centralised and thereby distanced from the poor. Bava (1997) summarises the strengths of IndianVOs as:their proximity to people far and near, flex-ibility, innovativeness, spirit of selfless service, possession of assets like expertise, information skills for awareness building, troubleshooting, and training to bring about development in a decentralised, democratic manner, for,Ngos symbolise debureaucrati-sation [sic] (1997: 11).Although these characteristics are norma-tive rather than actual, often absent, it is important thatVOs take on roles based on their comparative advantage, rather than replicating or substituting the state or other agencies.In state-led welfare activities, this entails “value-adding” to government pro-grammes. TheVOs role in service delivery has been much maligned, with critics arguing it enables the state to renege on its responsibilities and is a distraction to underlying causes of deprivation [Ramanath 2005; Commins 1999]. How-ever, the provision of services – such as education, health and sanitation – remain core development concerns and the subject
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 19, 200881of citizen entitlements. Rather than rejecting service delivery, the characte-ristics of VOs are such that they can im-prove on how the government meets theirobligations. With their proximity to the “local”,VOs can understand and “interpret” [Escobar 1992] the needs and desires of the poor, and implement inter-ventions that are relevant and people-driven [Korten 1990]. Thus, top-down delivery of welfare can be reversed, with VOs facilitating demand driven develop-ment, local control and ownership, and better targeting.Vos also inform the state of the efficacy of their schemes [Hameed 2007] and inform the poor of their entitlements, linking them into government schemes. Various RolesVOs also have the potential to perform roles associated with a strong “civil society”. This includes, being watchdogs of the government, and ensuring that the rights of citizens are maintained [Fowler 2000]; enlarging the “political commons where state and civil society… interact” [Fisher 1998]; and facilitating plurali-sation by increasing the voice of the marginalised in the political arena [MacDonald 1997].VOs in India have thus taken on roles of advocacy and campaig-ning for rights, and have been perceived – or presented themselves – as represen-tatives of the poor. They have also worked to improve the self-representation of the marginalised, particularly in the panchayat raj institutions (Pris). Further, as theoretically separate from the state and operationalonthelocal level,VOs have more space to be innova-tive and experimental. VOs encourage new perspectives, add-ing “real insight to local grassroots and political strategies by broadening horizons and helping people learn and see things differently” [Mitlin et al 2006: 38]. Such a role is important not only in offering alter-natives on the local level, but also in exhi-biting the value of certain approaches to the state. Sayeda Hameed (2007: 43), states that VOs can help the government overcome inertia, arguing they should help “[c]hange the paradigm, change the parameters, and go at it [development] in a different way”.Although desirable, questions arise as to the actual ability or impetus for VOs to take on these roles. Jain’s (1997) observa-tions reflects this succinctly: Ngos [non-government organisations] have been known for their virtues for human touch, dedication, flexibility, self-reliance and nearness to the community. However, because of the interaction with the govern-ment and the introduction of professional-ism in their services, these virtues have to a large extent eroded. When theNgos started getting government funds, their flexibility of operation has also diminished (1997: 131). Edwards and Hulme (1997) first raised the question that VOs are “too close to donors”, reproducing the values, interests, methods and priorities of their financial supporters, rather than being an alternative to them. These debates have resulted in an identity crisis of the sector, which has failed to maintain public confidence in their posi-tion as value-driven and people-centred organisations. It is noteworthy that such criticisms focus on the Vos’ inability to play “distinc-tive” roles in development, suggesting that the value of the sector is as a “comple-ment” to other development actors. As the legitimacy of both the state and the sector rests on their respective abilities to play distinctive and complementary roles, it is essential that the means to do so be given the utmost importance. It is with this task in mind that the National Policy on the Voluntary Sector is evaluated below. 2 Actualising Roles in PracticeA large body of literature and journalistic comment has enthusiastically identified problems of the voluntary sector, while the more thoughtful among them have tried to diagnose the causes [see Wallace 2000; Smillie 2000; Edwards 1999; Fowler 1997; Kamat 2002; Sooryamoorthy and Gangrade 2001 for a small selection of this literature]. Three key issues are frequently invoked – particularly by the sector itself.1 These are the lack of VO autonomy, partic-ularly financial autonomy; a drop in the credibility of the voluntary sector; and the broader environment in which VOs oper-ate, including the nature of VO relation-ships with other development actors. It is to the credit of the writers of the policy, and perhaps indicative of the consultative nature of its formulation, that these three issues have informed the objectives of the policy (section 3 of NPVS). We now exam-ine how these three areas prevent VOs from playing a complementary role in de-velopment, and the extent to which the provisions in the policy address them. 2.1 Financial and IdeationalOf these issues, the one that has gained the most attention in the international and national press, is that of autonomy [Edwards and Hulme 1997; Smillie 2000; Tandon 2002]. Autonomy comes in two different, and interlinking forms: finan-cial and ideational. The latter refers to the Vo’s ability to think of and pursue their own meanings of development and related concepts; the former extends this ability by providing financial independence. Al-though inter-connected, they are not dis-tinct. TheVos that are financially depend-ent on donors are not always impeded in their values or activities, while financially independentVOs can still be tied to domi-nant discourses and meanings. For many, however, the flow of ideas and approaches mirror the flow of money: top-down from donors to VOs. Ideally, both ideational and financial autonomy need to be extended as much as possible.Diversification of funding sources is one solution to the top-down nature of fund-ing. Several funding possibilities are open to Vos, including: membership charges and service fees; public donations (partic-ularly from domestic sources); state fund-ing; grants from internationalNgos; and bi-/multi-lateral funding [see Srivastava and Tandon 2005, for the relative impor-tance of each]. The state has a key role in controlling these possibilities. VOs com-plain that the state uses its power to regu-late domestic and foreign funding as a means to restrict, control and depoliticise the sector [Pandey 2006; Nair 2003]. For example, the tax system is ambiguous and inconsistent in its treatment ofvos [Shiva-kumar 2006], making certain grants and donations subject to taxation. Further, money from income generating projects is counted as taxable income unless chan-nelled into the same activity. This reduces theVOs’ ability to raise funds for their own projects that could not otherwise attract funding (ibid). Although the government is trying to simplify tax proceduresfor
NOTESapril 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly82VOs, more work is required in this area to make domestic donations and self- generated funds a greater source of in-come forVOs. Foreign FundsThe state has also played a major role in the regulation of foreign funds. The For-eign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA) requires the ministry of home affairs to approve all VOs before they can receive funds from abroad. Former finance com-missioner Amarish Bagchi provides the rationale of the act:In order that funds from abroad do not sub-vert the integrity of the institutions that con-stitute the pillars of our secular democratic polity, the FCRA seeks to regulate the flow of funds into India from foreign sources by lay-ing down a legal framework that enables the government to keep a vigil over undesirable foreign influence [in Dutta 2006: 40].Such justifications have only strengthened in the past decade, as terrorist attacks on Indian soil have prompted a revision and strengthening of the act. This includes tougher penalties for infringement, and the necessity for VOs to renew certificates every five years [Pandey 2006]. The response from the sector has been understanding mixed with frustration. Pandey, talking about the revision of the Act, captures this position succinctly:The voluntary sector stands by government’s concerns on safety and security of the na-tion, feeling at the same time that the pro-posedFCRA bill conditioning the receipt, uti-lisation and accounting of the foreign funds with stricter control and regulation will kill the strong spirit of voluntary action (ibid: 4).Nair (2003) argues that its historical lega-cy as a tool to control and intimidate VOs has continued. To cite an example, in 1999 the Bharatiya Janata Party (Bjp) investi-gated 13VOs that had sponsored an article critical of the government’s position on women and nuclear tests. The sector also calls attention to the discrepancy between the liberalisation of the private, commer-cial sector, and the greater restriction of the voluntary sector [Pandey 2006]. The government has further limited the VOs access to foreign funds by removing the welcome mat to bilateral donors. From 2003, only theUS, UK, Japan, the European Union, Germany and Russia can contri-bute development funds to central and state governments, and only if routed through multilateral agencies [VANI 2003b]. Although other bilateral agencies are able to assist VOs directly, the bureau-cratic requirements are such that they seem designed to deter all but the most persistent of donors, and add significantly to VO administrative costs. This decision was made without significant VO consul-tation, with the effect of reducing funds for important social development pro-grammes [VANI 2003b]. Government FundingThe restriction of other sources of funding increases the importance of the govern-ment for VO activities and survival. Here the state has been generous, with provi-sions for VO funding included in the First Five-Year Plan (Fyp), with substantial in-creases from the Fifth Fyp onwards [Sooryamoorthy and Gangrade 2001]. The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) esta-blished in 1953 to promote voluntary associations, and the Council for Advance-ment of People’s Action and Technology (CAPART) (1986) both continue to play an important role in financially supporting VOs, primarily through project-based funding. The nature of government fund-ing is, however, as important as its overall contribution to VO budgets. The majority of funds are project-based, linked to the implementation of certain activities. Flexibility is generally sacrificed for cen-trally devised programmes, withVOs little more than implementing agents. Further, such funding is generally time-bound and outcomes-based (with observable, quanti-tative measures preferred). In this respect, the central and state governments have not avoided the international trend to-wards “results-based management” (Rbm), which has become the primary form of managing development interventions [Wallace 2000]. Also a feature of much foreign funding, these conditions have a negative impact on VOs’ ideational autonomy. As funds are tied to particular projects implemented in a specific manner, the ability of VOs to pursue their own ideas of development are curtailed. Wallace (2000: 19) argues that asNgos are required to adopt Rbm tech-niques, they are pushed into roles that “contradict their stated values, missions and values”. Mawdsley et al (2005) further observed that such increased profession-alisation and accountability have made VOs more responsive to numerical targets than people. In this way, top-down govern-ment funding weakens the core qualities of VOs that make them unique develop-ment actors: flexibility and the ability to pursue innovative and alternative concep-tions of development; and their closeness to the people. If the government is seri-ous about facilitatingVOs playing distinct and complementary roles, they need to provide funding not provisional on adhe-rence to dominant norms and discourses, and that enablesVOs to develop their own values and experiment with differ-ent approaches. Policy Response to the Issue of Auto-nomy:The National Policy on the Volun-tary Sector has made substantial strides in addressing the issue of VO autonomy. Objectives of the policy include the crea-tion of an enabling environment that “stimulates [VO] enterprise and effective-ness, and safeguards their autonomy” (emphasis added) (section 3.1.1), thereby contributing to ideational autonomy. Financial autonomy is explicitly addressed in the next objective “To enable VOs to legitimately mobilise necessary financial resources from India and abroad” (section 3.1.2). The first step towards autonomy has been the clarification of the sector, and recommendations to simplify procedures that relate to VOs. The policy includes a definition of VOs (section 2.1) that can usefully distinguishVOs from other actors, thus making rules and procedures (such as the tax regime) specific to their circumstances. The policy also encour-ages state governments to simplify and rationalise laws in regard to VOs (section 4.2), and notes the government will examine the “feasibility of enacting a simple and liberal central law” for regis-tration (section 4.3). These actions will facilitate the development of a VO identity (that many claim has been lost throughtheir closeness to donors), and enable collective action in defence of the sector. Financial autonomy is more explicitly addressed through recommendations to change domestic and foreign funding reg-ulations. The policy notes the importance
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 19, 200883of public donations as sources of funds, and states the government will consider suitable tax rebates for donations in the forms of share and stock options (section 4.6). The granting of tax exemption status under the Income Tax Act is also to be sim-plified and streamlined. The policy recom-mends a review of the FCRA to make it less restrictive and easier for VOs to obtain foreign funds (section 4.7). The policy also makes a provision for streamlining the number of ministries involved in regulat-ing VOs, but it appears that the govern-ment will not grantVO requests to be autonomous from the ministry of home affairs (Mha). Doubts over the weight and influence of the policy when in conflict with other regulatory environments emerge in the debates overFCRA. The proposed passing of the strengthenedFCRA bill directly contradicts the spirit of the document, a point not lost on the sector [see for exam-ple Manisha 2007]. The language of the document is strong, but concrete meas-ures to change regulations are missing; it is through actual changes, rather than talk, that mark the success of the policy. Further, beyond encouraging words, the policy makes few solid recommenda-tions that could enhance VOs ideational autonomy. Problems concerning govern-ment funding are restricted to issues of accountability and monitoring, identified as: “[o]ut-dated design of funding schemes, arbitrary procedures, selection of unsuita-ble VOs, poor quality of implementation, and misuse of funds” (section 5.6). This barely addresses problems of control orientation, upward accountability and excessive emphasis on outcomes based management that constrainsVOs’ ability to pursue their own programmes. This is reflected in the importance given to project funding as a means for the government to “promote its activities without its direct involvement” (section 5.6). This suggests that the state envi-sages a role for VOs in replacing state activities, rather than the adoption of complementary activities. The limitations of the policy in increa-sing VO autonomy therefore is of two strands: capacity to turn policy into actual easing of restrictions in the regulatory environment; and a lack of imagination in tackling the more complicated requirement for ideational autonomy. It is not enough (though certainly a start) to improve the conditions for the diversification of funds; a concomitant effort needs to change the nature of the funding environ-ment. Kaushik’s sentiments exemplify popular opinion about how the current funding arrangements have reduced VO autonomy:They [VOs] are not voluntary anymore be-cause it is the availability of funds and the objectives, priorities, designs and action pro-grammes of the sponsors rather than those of the organisations, which dictate the direc-tion of the organisations [Kaushik 1997: 72].It is the top-down nature of funding flows, as much asVO dependence on external sources of funding that remains the greatest challenge forVO autonomy. 2.2 CredibilityKaushik’s comments also reflect a deeper malaise in the VO sector: a credibility crisis. The zenith of enthusiasm for VOs has long gone past, with state and devel-opment agencies increasingly cynical of the sector. The loss of credibility has been acute in two areas: financial, that is, the managing of funds; and identity, in which VOs are seen as indistinguishable from other development actors. The former has captured the most media attention, as journalists pounce on tales ofVOs misus-ing funds [Ninan 2007]. The crisis of identity is no less acute [Edwards and Sen 2002; Samuel 2003]. As noted in the opening section, VOs’ validity as development actors rests on characteristics that distinguish them from the state and other large develop-ment agencies. The credibility of VOs is backed by claims that they are “close” to and representative of the marginalised. However, research suggests that it is the middle class educated people who domi-nateVOs and civil associations, who are no better equipped to understand the poor [Samuel 2003; Harriss 2007]. Further, the governance ofVOs is rarely demo-cratic, with autocratic leaders often rul-ing over the VOs’ “fiefdoms” [Nyamu-gasira 1998]. Without these characteris-tics, it is hard for the sector to shape an identity (and legitimacy)separatefrom the state. The two credibility crises require different – and in some ways conflicting – solutions. Financial credibility is restored through transparency and accountability to donors in the use of funds; strict report-ing and auditing measures are essential to restore confidence inVOs. In contrast, for VOs to restore credibility in their unique identity, they need to be accountable from bottom up: answerable and responsive to the poor. Here the focus is not so much on reporting, as getting into “the field”, com-municating in the language and mediums of their clients. It also requires decision-making processes based on consultation and inclusiveness, rather than hierarchi-cal bureaucratic structures. Policy Response to the Credibility Issue: In outlining the importance of issues of governance, accountability and transpar-ency (section 4.4) theNVPS concentrates on the financial aspect ofVO credibility. The two relevant clauses are (i) section 4.5, which states the necessity to open up the sector to public scrutiny through the filing of basic documents by funding recipient VOs on the internet, and (ii) section 4.4, which recommends self- regulation by the sector. As the above dis-cussion suggests, the fulfilment of the former can lead to an increased reporting burden on VOs, encouragingVOs and their workers to divert time and money into “top-down” accountability activities. Al-though increased transparency is impor-tant to achieve financial regulation, a con-comitant effort is needed to educate the public about the nature of the VO work, and in particular the dual nature of their accountability. The obsession with reduc-ing “overheads” (staff and administration costs) needs to be tempered by an under-standing of what such costs cover, and why they are important. The possibility for a more balanced ap-proach to the issue of credibility is found in the suggestion of self-regulation of the sector. The sector has generally greeted this warmly [Tandon 2007, and for an exception see Tripathi 2007], and is seen as a good way for the sector to improve its credibility at the same time as implement a system flexible enough to accommodate the diversity of VOs. It is important, how-ever, that such a body focuses on both
NOTESapril 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly84forms of credibility – financial and identity – by improving top-down and bottom-up accountability. In this regard, existing bodies have been disappointing. The Credibility Alliance’s (http://www.cred-all.org.in) minimum norms of member-ship reads like a private sector manage-ment manual without considering the unique credibility requirements of the sector. Identity is reduced to the verifiable existence of the organisation and their legal status; aims and objectives are meas-ured in outputs compatible with results based management approaches; efficiency and effectiveness is emphasised in opera-tions; while reporting and audited state-ments are the primary means of achieving accountability and transparency. Issues of governance are limited to the proper functioning of the board, with no mention of democratic or inclusive decision- making processes. Although both the initiatives of the Credibility Alliance and theNPVS should be congratulated for addressing issues of VOs’ credibility, the continued focus on only the financial aspects needs greater critique. For the sector to justify its exist-ence as a unique development actor, it needs to show that its comparative advantage extends beyond the ability to manage funding in a “responsible” man-ner, to accuratelyrepresentingmargi-nalised people. 2.3 PartnershipsThe nature of the partnership between VOs and the state is the final area that needs addressing for each sector to under-take complementary activities. In order for VOs to implement demand driven de-velopment, represent the marginalised, link them to the state, and to offer alterna-tive and innovative development solu-tions, the state must be willing to engage in dialogue, be open to suggestions and to treat VOs as a source of expertise. That is, the state must be willing to question their own assumptions of “what is best”, anddevolve some of the responsibility of shaping development planning. This ideal situation is, however, far from be-ingachieved. The legacy of centralised planning [Khilnani 2003] has resulted in a culture of “top-down” development. The upscaling of government projects (based perhaps quite rightly on their compa-rative advantage of scale) has resulted in standardisation of approaches. VOs, as implementers of such programmes, are co-opted into uniform blueprint approachesthat replace their own initia-tives. This perpetuates the perception that VOs are merely implementers of govern-ment planning. Policy Response to the Partnership Issue: Fortunately, the importance of cre-ating conditions for a healthy partnership between the state and VOs has been given due attention in the NPVS. One of its pri-mary objectives is to “identify systems by which the government may work togeth-er withVOs, on the basis of the principles of mutual trust and respect, and with shared responsibility” (section 3.1.3). Most importantly, the document emphasises the nature ofVOs’ role in that relationship, stating “VOs can offer alternative perspe-ctives; committed expertise; an under-standing of the local opportunities and constraints; and perhaps most importantly, the capacity to conduct a meaningful dia-logue with communities, particularly those that are disadvantaged” (section 5.1). In this way, the policy outlines the impor-tance of engaging withVOs as experts,and their role in advising the state in develop-ment programmes and broaderpolicy. The policy itself is tacit recognition of the importance ofVOs to the operation of the government of India’s (GoI’s) develop-ment objectives, and the desire to have a strong working relationship with the sector. The policy outlines three instru-ments of partnership: formal consultation; strategic collaboration; and project fund-ing (section 5.3). The measures in place include encouraging the establishment of joint consultative groups/forums or joint machineries with representatives from VOs and the government (section 5.4). These are designed to “be permanent forums with the explicit mandate to share ideas, views, information and to identify opportunities and mechanisms for work-ing together” (section 5.4). The policy also explicitly notes that the state must utilise the expertise of the voluntary sector (section 5.4.1), involvingVOs in national collaborative programmes and plan docu-ments (section 5.5). Creation of spaces is not enough, how-ever, without an environment for mutual engagement. Positively, the policy addre-sses the need for transforming how bureaucrats think of, and engage with VOs. Section 4.9 recommends that “all relevant central and state government agencies…introduce pre-service and in-service training modules on constructive relations with the voluntary sector”. This would be ideally matched with greater capacity building ofVOs, funding for which is only a trickle, but an increasing one (though notably not from the GoI). Section 4.9 also recommends time-bound procedures for government agencies to deal withVOs, and formal systems for the registration of complaints and grievances. This would help address the uncertainty and arbitrariness that often characterise theVOs’ relations with the state. Where the policy has failed with regard to partnerships, is in relation to larger questions of discourse. Spaces for engage-ment, and even mutual respect, can still be exclusive forums as long as the param-eters are limited in their medium and con-tent. VOs are a diverse set of actors, with size, and ability to communicate with gov-ernment agencies not necessarily related to their competency to represent the poor. Smaller VOs complain that international Ngos continually overlook them as part-ners, concentrating their funding on larg-erNgos [Kapoor 2005]. The same is also true of the state’s engagement withVOs, which has tended to focus on organisa-tions capable of communicating with them, rather than broadening their own communication skills to engage with a broader diversity. Further, such dialogue is at risk of adhering to the world-views of state officials, rather than being open to alternative perspectives. Discursive regimes [Foucault 1974] limit discussion and constrain meanings to dominant concepts. Although a major problem in state/VO relations, the capacity of it to be solved through government policy is, admittedly, limited. 3 Guarded CelebrationThe release of the NPVS has received a mixed reception from the diverse volun-tary sector. It has helped to remove some of the hostility from state and VO relations,
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 19, 200885and restored the status of the sector as an important development actor. As Sayeda Hameed, Member in charge of the Volun-tary Action Cell in the Planning Commis-sion states, the policy “[r]estores the dig-nity of [VO]s” [in Bal 2006: 15], which government officials had started to regard condescendingly. If the policy does achieve a change in attitude, it will have been worth the wait, as it is primarily through personal relations that the relationship between the state and voluntary sector can start to resemble one of mutual regard and cooperation. The policy has also made significant inroads in clarifying and sim-plifying the formal regulations that con-strainVOs’ operations. Questions remain, however, over the next phase of implementation. As seen in the case of theFCRA, the NPVS has yet to show it can influence policy in other areas, or that it has any weight in the face of powerful ministries such as the ministry for home affairs. It is noteworthy that a previous policy document, the “Action Plan to Bring About Collaborative Rela-tionship betweenVOs and the govern-ment” released in1994 had, by 2002, failed to achieve even 5 per cent of its recom-mendations [VANI 2003a: 1]. The sector therefore needs to keep constant vigil and exert pressure on the government to turn the policy into concrete measures. The above analysis also suggests that theNPVS is deficient in one of the most im-portant aspects of VO/state relations: the ability of VOs to play complementary roles based on a unique identity rather than re-placing or replicating the state. While the policy has addressed the more easily iden-tified and rectifiable constraints to this ability, more complicated and problematic issues have been overlooked. This is per-haps indicative of the fact that policy doc-uments are written from a government perspective, while issues of identity and desirable roles should ideally be addressed by the sector themselves. This article is an attempt to initiate debate amongst the sec-tors about these issues, and start a discus-sion on the implications for VOs’ relation-ship with the state. The voluntary organi-sations should use their increased credi-bility formalised through theNPVS to push for further reforms that would assist them in these roles.Note 1 A survey of the literature of magazines produced by and for the sector – namely from organisations such as VANI and PRIA, in addition to publica-tions such asCivil Society – has informed this section. 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