The Union cabinet is likely to release India’s first national policy governing non-profit organizations on Wednesday, according to members of the task force that helped draft the document.
Observers say it will help improve practices and bring legitimacy to a sector increasingly asked to plug gaps in services, from water conservation to HIV/AIDS treatment.
The policy attempts to bring greater transparency among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and suggests the government examine establishing an accreditation system, an independent national self-regulatory organization, ways to streamline and standardize registration, and simplify income-tax exemption for charitable organizations.
The cabinet announced that it cleared the document on 17 May, but did not release details.
“On the one hand, the government is giving us the legitimacy we have always cried for, but there is a duality to it. The spirit of the plan will place NGOs under new obligations to improve their governance, of which we are in total support,” said Pooran C. Pandey, a member of the task force and chief executive of the Voluntary Action Network of India (Vani), a lobby group that represents 2,400 NGOs.
Other details of the new policy were not available.
The government’s policy on the so-called voluntary sector extends to community-based organizations, non-governmental development organizations and charities.
There are no reliable estimates for the number of NGOs operating in India, as many groups don’t comply with the requirement of registering themselves with the government.
However, advocacy group, Participatory Research in Asia, conducted a sample study in 2003 across five states in the country that found as many 1.2 million NGOs, the majority of whom were not registered. The sector is growing at between 10% and 15% a year, according to Vani’s estimates.
Across the board, the policy addresses the need of NGOs as “not so much just as agents doing social work out in the field, but as viable professional partners”, said Viraf Mehta, chief executive of the non-profit Partners In Change and who also sat on the task force. Partners in Change works with businesses to implement social responsibility programmes.
“There is an expectation that civil society will fill the gaps rising out of the shifting role of government,” said Mehta.
That means the government has a “huge role to play” in providing incentives forNGOs, recipients of thousands of crores of government funding, to improve their practices, he added.