Compliance: NGOs must get online

The way forward for a more transparent and accountable environment is to ensure the fraction of NGOs who have records to prove their compliance go online


Photo courtesy Vimages
Photo courtesy Vimages

I always used to quote in my public discussions that India has more than 3.3 million non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a figure I got from somewhere and stuck with me. I also, on my own, without any substantial support, mentioned that not more than 10% of these NGOs would be working with sincerity and dedication.

My assumption was vindicated by the recently released information by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that was published in some newspapers late last week. According to the published reports sourced from the CBI, which further attributes its source to the Registrar of Societies, there are 3.1 million NGOs in India, which means this is the largest institutional form of body in any sector anywhere in any country in the world.

In fact, all other major and large institutions in India look small compared to the number of NGOs. For example, there are only 250,000 panchayat institutions in the country, with about 2.8 million elected members. Similarly, we have about 1.8 million Anganwadi or frontline health workers in the country, which is again a figure of the collective of individuals under health as an institution. Ironically, we have 50% fewer schools in India compared to the number of NGOs.

According to reports, less than 10% of the 3.1 million NGOs have submitted their balance sheets and filed income-tax returns—i.e., 290,000 of them. This is just a little more than the number of panchayats in India, and perhaps it is the correct number of NGOs that India should ideally have.

Actually, we should not be surprised that only 10% of the total number of registered NGOs are believed to be functional and seen as accountable. If we look at any institution at that scale in India, the performance and accountability list would be around the same percentage. We need to ask ourselves how many panchayats are functional in a real sense and how many of the elected members attend or hold gram sabhas. The result won’t be very impressive.

One account that I have is that not more than 50,000 of the total 250,000 panchayats have computers, which is only 20%. Although computers have been allocated to all of them, the number of panchayats that use the computers and the connectivity provided to them is low. My account comes from the more than 100 locations where we are present. Not at a single one of these locations have we ever found any panchayats using computers for their daily work.

Similarly, I have another account about frontline health workers. Last week, I was in Gadchiroli, in a village called Bodhli to meet a Stree Arogya Doot (female health worker) who works under an NGO called SEARCH. Her task was to take care of pregnant women and newborn babies under a programme called home-based newborn. In this village and many adjoining villages, there are many ASHA workers on the rolls of the government. They are paid well, but not a single mother or pregnant woman goes to these workers. The poor performance of the schools in India could be seen through the recently released Socio Economic and Caste Census. It has already revealed an abysmal performance on the part of schools and teachers and its impact on education.

Likewise, look at the business sector. How many of the institutions are functional and accountable? There are more than 26 million micro and small enterprises in India, but how many of them are functional and how many of those registered with the Registrar of Companies have ever done their balance sheet or filed their income-tax return, for that matter?

I know for a fact that out of 2,000 traditional skill-based clusters in India, where thousands of entrepreneurs and enterprises exist, none of them ever got themselves registered or have ever filed their income-tax returns. I got to know this because we wanted to get them websites and asked what credentials they had to show online.

I do not think that it is a big surprise that we have less than 10% of NGOs who have shown compliance; the issue has more to do with perception. I guess, as soon as one talks of NGOs, people expect them to be above normal human beings—extraordinarily honest, devoted, frugal, ethical, full of sacrifice and certainly the ones not expected to hide anything.

The reason for this expectation is not totally misplaced, as that is what NGOs declare themselves to be. However, over a period of time, there have been trends to form NGO for an available opportunity and then open another one for another opportunity.

For example, in one of several workshops that we organized for NGOs to train them in digital tools, we got to know, especially in Andhra Pradesh, that hundreds of NGOs are formed every year as per the work availability under various government departments. After the disbursement of amounts per NGO, they gradually, for all practical purpose, cease to exist. Try to get in touch using any of their contact numbers and address and you won’t find anything.

To bring order in this sector with the firm belief that the right ones who do hard work do not suffer from lack of visibility, resources and linkages with government and supporting organizations—these NGOs also produce lot of content and knowledge that must be shared in open domain—we reached out to about 10,000 NGOs in the last five years through many workshops.

More than 90% of them said they would be more than happy to have their website and are ready to share everything that is usually asked for compliances. I believe online presence for each NGO must be made mandatory, with each of them, as part of compliance procedures, sharing their annual balance sheet and the list of work and locations, including the names of funding sources.

Instead of blaming the NGOs that do not comply, we should blame those who choose to work with them. The way forward for a more transparent and accountable environment for NGOs, at least for a start, is to ensure all those 10% NGOs who have records to prove their compliance go online.

Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chair of Manthan and mBillionth awards. He is also a member of screening committee of community radio at the ministry of information & broadcasting. Tweet him @osamamanzar

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