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Strong mechanism is required to regulate NGOs : Supreme Court

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are now working without any regulation and doing what they want. Even many NGOs are doing unfair practices. The Supreme Court bench led by CJI Thakur appointed senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi and sought his views on how to fasten accountability on the NGOs when they are funded from the public exchequer.

Favouring a strong regime to regulate NGOs, the Supreme Court suggested that the Law Commission may look into the matter and make suitable recommendations to fill in the lacuna in legal provisions. A bench led by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur appointed senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi as amicus curiae and sought his views on how to fasten accountability on the NGOs when they are funded from the public exchequer.

“They are getting money from all over the world… what is an NGO? Anyone can register a society and it becomes an NGO. There is no central legislation to ensure accountability… no legal brainwork done at the central level to control them. Unless some mechanism is put in place centrally, nothing can be done,” observed the bench.

It regretted that out of around 31 lakh NGOs, less than 10 per cent submitted details of their accounts with the registrar of societies and said that absence of a central law could be the reason for lack of regulatory regime. It asked PIL petitioner-advocate M L Sharma to hand over a copy of the petition and other relevant documents to Dwivedi, and added that if necessary, the court might refer the matter to the Law Commission for an in-depth study.

The first-ever exercise by the CBI to map registered NGOs had disclosed that India has at least 31 lakh NGOs — more than double the number of schools in the country, 250 times the number of government hospitals, one NGO for 400 people as against one policeman for 709 people. These statistics, indicating the relative status of education and healthcare infrastructure apart from policing, have come to light after the CBI collated information from all states and Union Territories to list NGOs registered under the Societies Registration Act.

The CBI was directed by the court to collect information about NGOs and inform whether these NGOs have filed balance sheets, including income-expenditure statements, to ascertain compliance with accountability norms.
(Source: http://indianexpress.com)

NGO organisers and relatives have to file assets and liabilities under the Lokpal Act

NGO leasers want to be escape

The implications of falling under the ambit of the Lokpal Act have discomfited many non-governmental organisations.
Two years after the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013 was enacted by the UPA government, the Centre’s decision to operationalise a couple of provisions has set off alarm bells among a large section of the NGO sector.

Three notifications from the Department of Personnel dated June 20, 2016, and an official memo on June 24, laid down the procedures and timelines for filing returns of public servants, the definition of which in the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act includes office bearers of NGOs.

Section 14 (1) of the Act includes directors, managers, secretaries and other officers of societies, trusts and associations of persons that receive more than Rs 10 lakhs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) under its ambit. It does the same in the case the organisations wholly or partly funded by the Central government if they receive an annual grant above a limit that may be fixed by it. (This has been set at Rs 1 crore.)

July 31 deadline
Earlier, Central government employees had been asked to file their assets and liabilities under the Lokpal Act. But what the June 20 notifications did was extend this to those working in NGOs and set the deadline for submissions of their returns to a designated authority by July 31.

Ironically, the Lokpal Act’s definition of senior employees of NGOs as ‘public servants’, thereby bringing them under the Lokpal and making them prosecutable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA), went through Parliament without a murmur. These were inserted at the insistence of civil society activists such as Arvind Kejriwal, now Delhi’s Chief Minister, who were campaigning for the legislations.

“As the Act was passed in Parliament and defines those who work in NGOs as public servants, the rules are the same and they are expected to follow it,” said K.S. Dhatwalia, spokesperson for the Home and Personnel ministries.

Specific target
But the notification which makes it mandatory for senior staff of NGO’s to provide details of cash, bank balances, immovable properties and loans of themselves, their spouses and dependent children has caused a deep discomfort within a section of the NGOs.

Refusing to buy the Centre’s argument that it is merely implementing what is prescribed already in the Act, there are some who believe that this is a part of the Centre’s strategy to target NGOs. The Home Ministry’s cancellation of the registration of 10,020 associations for violation of the FCRA is cited as evidence of this.

Says Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty India: “The present notification needs to be seen in the context of the actions of the government over the last two years, which has combined targeting of specific human rights NGOs and wholesale cancellations of FCRA registrations.”

Uniformly applicable
Privately, some members of NGOs admit they were blinkered in failing to notice the implication of being declared public servants under the Lokpal Act. Moreover, that it is also somewhat self-serving to continue to demand that disclosures be made by bureaucrats while seeking exemptions for themselves.

But what triggered the June notifications? According to official home ministry sources, it was the large amount of funds sent from foreign donors to Christian missionaries and Islamic organisations. On March 28, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) put two foreign donors — U.S.- based Compassion International and South Korea’s Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — under the “watch-list” after adverse reports from security agencies. A senior government official said these two associations were sending money to NGOs in India who were involved in proselytisation.

The issue found an echo in the Rajya Sabha last week when nominated MP Anu Aga pointed out that while “NGOs and charitable institutions work for the public, they are voluntary and regulated by several laws including the Charity Commissioner and the Registrar of Societies and Income Tax and FCRA. Trustees of these NGOs are not public servants because they give their time and some also give their financial support on a voluntary basis.”

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, NCP leader Sharad Pawar wanted the Centre to have a relook at the provisions of the Act.

Several NGO representatives have petitioned senior officials in the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) asking for a respite from the order. The Centre is considering withdrawing the notification and making amendments to the Lokpal Act.

(News source: Vijaita Singh and G. Sampath : The Hindu)

Now NGO members’ record is mandatory to declare to get Government Funds

The Central Government has made a number of things mandatory in order to regulate corruption and misuse of NGOs, particularly in their financial matters. It was already mandatory to obtain Unique Identification numbers and have them registered on the portal of NITI Aayog. Now, in an effort to improve transparency and to keep a check on transactions involving misuse and corruption, the details of PAN and Aadhaar numbers of all the position holders and trustees of the organisation must be registered as well. Failing to do so would render them unable to apply for funding from any ministry of the government.

The NITI Aayog came upon this decision on 9 May 2016. All ministries have been instructed to process applications for grants and assistance from NGOs solely through the NITI Aayog’s portal.
Furthermore, development of a system to assign unique identification numbers to all charitable trusts and societies was also decided in another meeting regarding this matter, along with the provisions of direct benefit transfers and enrollment of Aadhaar.
In accordance with the provisions of the Aadhaar Act, this is one of the steps to involve the use of Aadhaar in various schemes of the government. Inclusion of the Aadhaar provides the factor of an additional security as there is biometric data of the participants involved which can be used to identify the individuals.
Another notification to heed to in particular is a June 26 notification of the Centre. It states that, in accordance with the Lokpal and Lok Ayukta Act (2013), the members handling an NGO’s everyday operations will be treated as public servants if an NGO acquires government funding exceeding Rs. 1 carore. This limit is marked at Rs. 10 lakh per year in case of foreign funding.
The notification also says that trustees and office holders of the NGOs must declare their moveable and immovable properties, cash, personal assets and jewellery by July 31.
They are subject to rules and regulations for government officials under the Prevention of Corruption Act too.
While the notification and regulations are an effort to increase the accountability of the NGOs, the notification has also caused a little chaos and raised some fears as it is being interpreted as an attempt to increase the Centre’s control in these regards.
The motive behind these reforms is to ease the process of identifying, verifying and maintanance for the receivers as well as the donors.

NGO rescues burnt, beaten 6-year-old boy from house in Noida

NGO officials said the child was abandoned at the house by his alcoholic father after his mother died. Since then, he was living there. With several burn injuries on his legs, he is barely able to walk. He is so traumatised that he is unable to speak. And he is just 6. This child, who was brutally tortured at a house in Greater Noida, has just been rescued by an NGO.
Childline, an NGO, received information on Tuesday night that a child working in a house in Dadri could barely walk as he had burn injuries on his legs. “Acting on the tip-off, our team reached the house and rescued the boy. The condition of the kid was so bad that he could hardly walk. He was immediately taken to a shelter home and government officials were informed,” said Satya Prakash, programme manager, FXB Suraksha-Childline.
NGO officials said the child was abandoned at the house by his alcoholic father after his mother died. Since then, he was living there. It is suspected that the six-year-old was made to work in the house and brutally beaten up by the owners when he failed to complete his work. The name of the house owner, a businessman by profession, has been withheld as no FIR has been registered so far. “As the kid could not speak up, we have not registered a case, but we have informed the district administration and police,” Prakash said.
Members of the NGO also took the child for a medical examination at a government hospital. Several burns were found on his waist and lower body. According to doctors, he was burnt with some heated metal object.
“The wounds and scars on his body show that he was beaten up badly and his skin was also burned with a hot metal object. The scar marks are rectangular in shape. There are traces of old scars and several burn injuries were found at the same place,” a doctor who conducted the child’s medical examination said.
As the kid is still in trauma and his injury severe, the NGO is thinking of shifting him to a private hospital for better treatment.
“We are waiting for him to recover before we take further legal action. We are yet to record his statement. Till the time, he will stay in our shelter home and we will take him to a private hospital for better treatment,” Prakash said.
(http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

Instead of quick decisions SC questions to NGO on PIL

“We understand that our impression today is that you have no mechanism to scrutinise or verify the informations as to prima facie these informations disclose any fraud,” a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur said during the hearing of a PIL filed by CPIL challenging the grant of 4G licences to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL). “Your organisation should not become an instrument in the hands of commercial rivals of others and it should not appear that both of you work hand-in-gloves,” the bench, also comprising Justices AK Sikri and R Banumathi, observed while emphasising that there should be a credible mechanism to scrutinise the information before filing PILs. “When we entertain your petition, you must establish a credible mechanism of scrutiny. People of eminence should apply mind and certify that such a mechanism inspires confidence. We want to make sure that a petition filed by CPIL has gone through a particular process and is genuine,” the bench said.

Bhushan replied in negative that the NGO filed PILs in return for a consideration and said there was an executive committee of senior advocates like Anil Divan, Shanti Bhushan, Colin Gonsalves and others who decide on the filing of PILs. The bench said it was of the view that if there was a genuine mechanism to scrutinise information, there would be no problem if the NGO gets financial support for its functioning. When Bhushan said that CPIL has a research wing to look into the information and materials, the bench said there should be an investigating wing that can give a report so that credible attempt can be made.

“Petitions should not be on the basis of the raw information,” the bench added. Bhushan made an attempt to make it clear that it was aware of all the questions that was arising in the minds of the bench and said, “we do not have any personal interest.” He also said the PIL against the company was filed on the basis of the draft CAG report which had spoken about certain irregularities in the grant of 4G licence.

The bench asked why does not the NGO, instead of filing PILs, itself ask a particular individual or organisation to make their own efforts by approaching the court. “Why don’t you advise if they have any material and information, instead of you filing the PIL, they themselves can file the writ petitions,” the bench asked. Bhushan said there have been cases where whistleblowers themselves do not want to come forward and prefer NGOs to take up their cause as happened in the leaked e-mail case of Essar pointing towards the corporate-political-bureaucrat nexus. The whistleblower was within the company, he said.

While he was replying, the bench asked: “Have you ever thought that a person should set up a shop or business and open its door for public that I am a person ready to take up the matter and I am the ultimate messiah. I am here, why do you worry. I will take up the PIL.” The bench said the matters can be classified as that of environment and civil liberty etc. “Even the companies can approach you with complaints about competitors and send their executives with briefcases of documents,” the bench said, while adding that it was posing such questions since the CPIL had not filed one, but 50 PILs.

“We are just thinking it necessary to pose these questions. Its not about one matter. There are series of matters and you said you have filed 50 PILs. It consumes a lot of time of the court,” the bench said. It said there can be a committee to scrutinise the PILs to ascertain whether it was in genuine public interest. At the outset, the bench asked what kind of concept is it that anybody can walk in and just file a complaint or PIL? “Why should we hear PILs filed by CPIL? You are a professional litigant. Can you become a ‘centre’ for PILs?.”

“We will not allow the process to be taken for a ride. Any number of petitions are filed by you. We can’t allow you to be perpetual litigant,” the bench said. When Bhushan said the CPIL has filed 50 PILs, the bench wanted to know about the people behind them. “Who are the people behind the PILs? Are those people working in public interest or are they publicity hungry? We would like to go into all these things. We want to entertain the PIL by CPIL because the persons supporting the organisation should be genuine and eminent and we should be in a position to say it is a fit case to examine.

“Once your people say they have looked into the information, we presume that it is genuine. We would rely on the eminence of the people. It will help you and it will help us. No questions will be asked,” the bench said. Bhushan agreed with the bench that when information comes to them, these kind of issues are always raised. “There can be both public interest in the matter as well as commercial interest. As in this petition, commercial rivals of Reliance would have their own commercial interest,” he agreed.

(http://www.ibnlive.com)

‘Activists Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey attked by BJP MLA & supporters’

A day after NGO workers affiliated to organisations of activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey were attacked in Jhalawar, an FIR on the incident failed to directly mention local BJP MLA Kanwar Lal Meena. The activists had said that Meena was the one leading the attack against them.

The police, meanwhile, arrested four youths aged 20-22 years on Sunday for the attacks, which injured a dozen workers. Taking cognisance of media reports, BJP state president Ashok Parnami late Sunday issued a notice to Meena and sought a clarification within a week.
A copy of the FIR, talks of an ‘MLA’ four times without naming him. The activists have demanded the naming of the MLA (who represents Manohar Thana constituency) in the FIR, saying that the FIR has not named the MLA as an accused under point seven of the format [which seeks details of known/suspected/unknown accused]. The FIR mentions ‘unknown’ person, whereas the application given by Shankar Singh, one of the founders of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), twice mentions the MLA’s involvement. The activists allege that the police initially “tampered” with the complaint, adding ‘purv’ (former) wherever the ‘MLA’ was mentioned.
Jhalawar SP Rajendra Singh said, “They (activists) made an allegation against the MLA. They were told by people there that a person attacking them is an MLA. It is a matter of investigation.”
The MLA, though, claimed that he went to the spot with police “to mediate” after he got calls about the attacks. Aklera police station SI Manmohan said that Suraj, Ram Vilas, Lal Chand and Beeram were arrested in connection with the attack.

(http://indianexpress.com)

People make profitable ventures to NGOs to gain money : Kailash Satyarthi

New Delhi. Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has said some NGOs in the country work on an “agenda” and have been even used for conversions in India. Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize 2014, for working towards freeing children from being employed in labour work through his ‘Bachpan Bachao Aandolan’.
He lamented that some international agencies funding NGOs have used them for serving their own agenda, including carrying out conversions and promoting violence. ‘Some NGOs work on an agenda’
“There are many kinds of people. Those in the corporate world and politics have also started NGOs to meet their ends. They have been used even for carrying out conversions. NGOs are becoming a money-minting machine in the name of poverty. They all have their own agendas,” he told ‘Panchjanya’ in an interview. He also cited the example in Delhi where investigations by police reveal that some organisations funded by Child Welfare Board lured poor children from across the country into Child Homes run by them for conversions. “No one should be lured to convert with money or other benefits. I am against such conversions,” he told the publication. Satyarthi also accused such organisations of dividing the NGO community and creating a rift between them in the country by luring some with donations and foreign travels.
“There are some organisations working in the name of social welfare are being funded by such agencies who claim to be working in this direction but their purpose is something else. It is my experience that such agencies lure NGOs with money, donations and foreign travels and try to divide the NGOs in the country,” he said.
The Nobel laureate lamented that in the last two decades some people have started NGOs with the objective of making it a profitable venture to uplift their careers and make money instead of serving humanity. “When people started getting foreign donations and government funding, then people set up such organisations to gain.
Now even ‘socialites’ and ‘fashionable civil society’ have come up. I have seen such people who have made a business out of social reform and social welfare. “In the last two decades, a section of NGOs have found a way to make a career for themselves instead of initiating social reform. People think NGOs are a means to make money and make their careers. I have seen those donating to such NGOs also have their own agenda,” he told the publication.
Satyarthi said many social organisations have raised issues and there is no harm in doing so, but when foreign agencies funding such NGOs dictate terms to raised such issues it is not good and wondered how the change will come. He said he only came to know of such instances after they raised the issues and later found that they were funded by such agencies which had vested interests.

Abolition of Devadasi system: SC fines on govt for not replying

New Delhi. The Supreme Court has slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on the Centre for failing to file on time an affidavit on women being forced to become ‘devadasis’ and the possibility of abolition of the age-old tradition. A bench of justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit said that since the government has not filed its response despite the last opportunity given by the court on September 11, it needed to pay a cost of Rs 25,000.
SC However, it asked the authorities concerned to file an affidavit within four weeks. In September, the Centre had agreed to file a composite affidavit with regard to the system of women being allegedly forced to become devadasis.
A ‘devadasi’ is a woman dedicated to worship and service of a deity or a temple all her life. The court had then said that no further time will be granted in the matter. It has now fixed the matter for hearing on January 8. The court had sought Centre’s response on PIL filed last year by NGO S L Foundation, which sought direction to central and Karnataka governments to take urgent steps for restraining the ‘devadasis’ dedication that was going to be held on the midnight of February 13, 2014 at Uttangi Mala Durga Temple in the state’s Devanagar district as it was against the provision of the Constitution. The Supreme Court was told that the activity was also against the Karnataka Devadasis Prohibition of Dedication Act, 1982, and conflicts with the rights of juveniles.
The court had also then directed Karnataka’s Chief Secretary to take all preventive measures in respect of a programme, wherein Dalit girl children were to be dedicated as ‘devadasis’.
The bench had also sought Karnataka government’s reply and asked it to file a response on the PIL seeking framing of guidelines to stop the tradition of ‘devadasis’, saying it is a national shame.
The NGO has alleged that the process of ‘devadasi’ dedication was still prevalent in different parts of the country despite the law against it and pleaded for the apex court’s intervention in the matter. The NGO has sought direction to the central government to frame a law and guidelines to prohibit the practice of this system in any part of the country.

Gujarat is to set solar and stellar observatories

Ahmedabad. Gujarat is all set to get its first-ever solar as well stellar observatories, with government-recognised Indian Planetary Society (IPS) selecting Kutch district for embarking on this project at a cumulative cost of Rs 12 crore.
The Solar Observatory would be utilised to study the Sun as well as the Solar System, while the Stellar Observatory will collect crucial information by studying various galaxies, planets and stars, said IPS CEO Akshay Malhotra, who is at present in Kutch for a detailed study of possible locations in that area.
“This is for the first time when IPS is embarking on a project to set up its first solar as well as stellar observatories. We have decided to set up these observatories in Kutch, as the sky is very clear here, which is very essential for accurate results,” he said. “There are such observatories in different parts of India being run by the government, while we are an independent NGO recognised by the government. This is for the first time when Gujarat will get such observatories, as there are none at present here,” said Malhotra. Apart from having a clear sky, which is necessary for night observation of galaxies, the Tropic of Cancer passes from here, which gives ample sunlight necessary for solar observation, he said.
“The Tropic of Cancer passes from near Bhuj, which makes this place ideal for solar observation. As of now, we have zeroed-in on two locations, one is Lakhpat and another is Loriya village near Khavda, which is around 80 kms from Bhuj” he said. According to him, high-efficiency telescopes, along with other high-end equipments, would be installed at these observatories under PPP (public-private-partnership project) model.
“Budget for the Solar Observatory is around Rs 2 crore, while we may require at least Rs 10 crore for the Stellar Observatory. We will go for PPP model to execute this project, which will take a couple of years to complete. We will raise funds through donations as well as through government fundings,” Malhotra said. Scientists from India as well as across the world are associated with IPS, having its head office at Mumbai.

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