The  Time Has Clearly Come to Reconsider the Irrational Curbs Placed on the Voluntary Sector


The country is passing through extremely difficult times. As in the past, several NGOs and voluntary organizations  have come forward to provide important services. However there is a widespread feeling that voluntary organizations have themselves been so weakened in recent times that they are unable to give their best.

This has happened largely because many curbs were placed on the work of social activists and then important legislative changes were made during the previous year in Covid times without due consultations  with the voluntary sector which forced several voluntary organizations to restrict their functioning unnecessarily in  various ways. While several organizations had a lot of difficulty in continuing their work, others  more or less had to close down, creating avoidable livelihood losses as well. Hence the  excessive curbs may have violated the right to livelihood as well for several persons engaged earlier in creative and socially useful work.

If the government has reviewed the working of these legislative changes in an unbiased way, by now it should be aware of the unnecessary and irrational disruptions the ill-advised actions have caused. Hence it is clearly time for the government to reconsider these changes with an open mind so that voluntary organizations can work in less restricted and more creative conditions, and are more free to work out their functional patterns.

The amendments to the FCRA ( Foreign Contributions Regulation Act)  limit greatly the democratic space within which the NGO sector has been able to function in our country. These amendments impose rather arbitrary restrictions in terms of curbs on administrative expenses, transferring funds to other smaller voluntary organizations and other aspects which disrupted the way in which NGOs were functioning without the government having provided a credible c account of the necessity or rationality of these restrictions. The changes were such that campaign based organizations and their grassroots partners faced more problems and disruptions.

Of course the government is well within its rights to ensure that foreign funds should not be misused. In fact no one is questioning this, and it is in the common  interest of all stakeholders including the NGO sector to ensure that any such misuse which harms true national interests is avoided. However even before these amendments all information on FCRA funds received was being sent to the government and if in any case there was any suspicion the government always had adequate provisions to investigate such cases and to take further action based on what were the true findings of such investigations. In such a pre-existing situation, it is difficult to see what good, if any, the amendments have achieved.

There have been some indications recently that the government may be willing to reconsider some or all of the recent amendment so as to facilitate less restrictive and more democratic functioning of the voluntary sector. This may be  just the right time to go ahead  with this thinking and take back at least the more arbitrary and irrational curbs on the voluntary sector. Apart from undoing some arbitrarily inflicted injustice, this will enable the voluntary sector to make a better contribution in these exceptionally difficult times.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times) and When the Two Streams Met ( freedom movement).



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