ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Hidden Universe of Non-profit Organisations in India

Systemic reform of the institutional and legal framework for non-profit organisations in India is long overdue, but its absence does not imply that their societal, developmental and professional contributions should be ignored, decried, or devalued.

A bench of the Supreme Court was “startled by the number of NGOs  operating in India”1 when it was informed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in the third week of September 2016, that there were nearly 31 lakh non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country and only 8%–10% had filed their accounts with the registrar of societies. It is surprising that the Supreme Court should have got “startled.” But, what is truly startling is that the judges went on to declare that NGOs get “mind-boggling” funds and it has become a “major problem,”2 implying that these funds were “unaccounted” for, and no useful purpose is being served by NGOs. The bench has appointed senior lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi as amicus curiae, asking him to examine a legal framework to monitor the activities of NGOs and the manner in which the money is spent. This call to examine the legal and institutional framework of NGOs is most welcome, as it may result in some concrete, positive outcome of a modern, transparent and comprehensive institutional mechanism for the entirety of the non-profit/not-for-profit sector in the country. Such demand for modernising and reforming the institutional framework for the non-profit sector has been consistently made for the past three decades, many a time by members of the sector itself.

In recent months, much public attention was focused on NGOs, from Zakir Naik’s Peace TV and Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) to Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust, about which very little information existed in the public domain (when compared to the well-known Rajiv Gandhi Foundation). Last year, the Ford Foundation, Greenpeace and Teesta Setalvad’s Sabrang Trust made news. As a matter of routine, media reports include public disclosure of “some” wrongdoings by foreign-funded NGOs and the blacklisting of “unaccountable” NGOs. These reports are then followed by calls to make them more transparent and accountable. In the meantime, the Supreme Court appoints the Lodha Committee to “improve” the system of governance and public accountability of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) (Tandon 2016a). Media reports further suggest that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is prosecuting Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation for gross damage to the banks of the Yamuna River in Delhi. Do these varied organisations have anything in common, considering that their purposes and activities are different? They do: they are all non-profit organisations (NPOs).

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Updated On : 24th Jan, 2017

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