Restrictions on NGO activities: Beyond civil society – ‘Protectionism’ in social services is impractical

Source: The post is based on the article “Beyond civil society – ‘Protectionism’ in social services is impractical” published in the Business Standard on 4th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – The role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.

Relevance: About restrictions on NGO activities.

News: Recently, at least two NGOs have received letters from the government to stop their fund-raising. The government also directed states to restrict NGO activities in areas where the Central government assumes primary responsibility.

What are the recent restrictions on NGO activities?

According to the home ministry, 6,677 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) lost their licences to access foreign funding between 2017 and 2021. The government is also restricting access to domestic funding as well.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development’s letter to the states complains about the “false information being spread by NGOs” and asks local administrations to raise awareness about the government’s nutrition schemes.

Why imposing restrictions on NGO activities is not correct?

These strictures are unclear and counter-productive: For instance, serial internal surveys, including the government’s National Family Health Surveys, have flagged child malnourishment as a serious issue. So, it is in the government’s interest to work with reputed NGOs towards improving child nourishment.

Overlapping domains are unavoidable: The government, by its very nature, is active in the delivery of social services such as health and education. So, the operation of NGOs always overlaps with government domains.

Impacts CSR activities: Improving education and tribal welfare is part of the list of activities under corporate social responsibility mandates. Restrictions on NGOs might create confusion about the status of corporate programmes in which they have invested money.

Read more: The evolving role of CSR in funding NGOs
What should be done instead of imposing restrictions on NGO activities?

Lessons from Bangladesh: Bangladesh is significantly improving its human development indicators in cooperation with NGOs. So, India should co-work with NGOs.

So, enforcing protectionism in social services in a country like India cannot be considered a sound policy.

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