First the elected lawmakers were involved in governance, then it shifted to civil servants and from them the judiciary took over governance of our country and now the NGOs are trying to take the slot. Can jholawalas who are the self-proclaimed civil society be involved in governance and if so, with what implications?
Two recent news reports carried briefly in newspapers highlight some issues in this regard. One report is from Karnataka and the other is from Chhattisgarh. One is regarding violence and the cutting of trees in Mysore by the public after an accident in which a pedestrian, knocked down by a speeding lorry, died.
The report suggests that a — ‘hit-and-run accident that killed a Mysore City Corporation (MCC) employee on Saturday (January 9) morning developed into mob hysteria, leading to the felling of some 25 trees along Lalitha Mahal Palace Road where a road-widening project has been stalled since June by the Tree Court following objections by environmentalists.
Local councillors P Deveron, Anantha, Vinita and Mahadevamma joined the dharna and raised slogans in support of the road-widening, criticising environmentalists opposing the project. Soon some people, armed with axes, began felling trees on both the sides of the road near the Arch Gate’.
The Tree Court seems to have suspended the felling of some 200 trees for the project. But recently more than four persons have been killed in that stretch due to narrow roads. Environmentalists suggest that heavy traffic should not be allowed on that road, but elected representatives suggest that road widening is important.
The second report (from Chhattisgarh) is more revealing about the role of NGOs in supporting disruptive and dangerous forces like the Maoists. The report says that Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey and other jholawalas were prevented by a large group of villagers in Dantewara in Chhattisgarh when they attempted to go to a village to address what is called a public hearing à la Maoist kangaroo courts.
Of course Leftist newspapers castigated the agitators for preventing democratic forces from exercising their freedom as if the demonstrators did not have any freedom. Also mentioned was the fact that the demonstrators were asking them to go back since they are supporters of Maoists, and not tribals.
These jholawalas do not have any respect for democratic institutions, and they have the fascination for dictatorships, Naxalism and autocracy. They have not condemned unequivocally Naxalism/Maoism other than some mumbo–jumbo on means and ends, etc. NGOs are only accountable to themselves and hence cannot be held responsible for any act of omission and commission of others.
Also the peculiar situation of the NBA leaders like Dharmadhikari and Himanshu Thakkar — being on the International Advisory Board of International Rivers, which gets huge grants (more than $1,00,000) from organisations like the Ford Foundation, Tides Foundation and Blue Moon fund — is never talked about since the sources and usage of funds received by the NGOs are beyond the ambit of ordinary mortals. They thrive on propaganda and even the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure as early as 1999 regarding these NGOs in terms of their prevarication and obfuscation on the Narmada issue.
NGOs have become the major non-state actors in deciding about resource allocation, location of plants, starting or not starting of projects and government spending. The single largest corrupt activity of the central government called NREGA — unfortunately now named after Mahatma Gandhi — wherein thousands of crores are transferred to contractors and middlemen in the name of ‘inclusive growth’ is the brainchild of many of these NGOs. Now they want to not only monitor it but also run the programme.
The crux of the issue is regarding governance. Who runs the government? Is it the elected representatives aided by the executive or is it the NGOs? If it is the latter then there are many questions regarding their accountability and responsibility. Interestingly many of these NGOs are not even ‘non-government’ as claimed by them since they get huge funds from the government, Indian or foreign.
More than Rs 65,000 crore was received from abroad during 1994 to 2007. Annual receipts have gone up from Rs 1,865 crore in 1994 to Rs 12,290 crore in 2007. More interestingly around 50 per cent of the associations do not file reports. These are those received from abroad and millions more is generated locally. It is possible that some global corporations may be financing some of them to prevent the setting up of plants by Indian competitors.
We have entered a dangerous zone in our national life wherein non-elected and unaccountable jholawalas are trying to hijack the state apparatus supported by bleeding heart liberals (BHL’s) in the print and electronic media.
India, under the Constitution, should be run by elected lawmakers assisted by bureaucrats. Lawmakers may be illiterate or corrupt but that is the system we have decided to have, and that is the system which should be strengthened and reformed. NGOs substantially funded from unknown sources (many a times foreign) whose balance sheets are secret will not facilitate the growth of our democracy.
It will only result in public exhibiting their anger at these forces as seen in Mysore and Dantewara. Sooner the government reins in the NGOs by bringing them within the ambit of RTI the better for the social cohesiveness and economic development.
Since they demand transparency from all and sundry let them publicise their comprehensive audited balance sheets and sources and uses of funds in their websites. They must be compelled to declare their foreign sources of funds and other affiliations. Let the laws of the land be made applicable to the self-proclaimed civil society activists.