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NGOs across sectors have slammed the DoPT notification declaring NGO office bearers as public servants and mandating them to declare assets if they receive foreign funding of more than Rs 10 lakh or government grant of more than Rs 1 crore.
While the government Wednesday amended the Lokpal Act to give reprieve to central government employees and NGO office bearers from declaring their assets by July 31, many civil society organisations called the initial move an “absurd” exercise that can be “misused to harass civil society”. The provision will now be examined in detail by a Parliamentary Standing Committee that will submit its report before next session of Parliament.
“By calling NGO officials ‘public servants’ and extending the Lokpal to them, the government will end up diluting the purpose of the Lokpal. There is also a danger that the Lokpal will be used to harass NGOs, who are voicing dissent and are raising issues that the government finds unpalatable,” said Nisha Agrawal, the CEO of OXFAM India.
Biraj Patnaik, Right to Food activist and advisory board member for Amnesty India International, said “This is a retrograde step and is a setback to the Lokpal movement. We won’t advance unless there is full public disclosure by public servants, their spouses and children. NGOs should never have been defined as public servants in the first place. That is an independent issue that NGOs must resolve by going to the court. But using that as an excuse these amendments are being moved to benefit the actual public servants.”
Questioning government’s motives, Greenpeace Executive Director Ravi Chellam added: “…the question is whether these (measures) are being brought in for ensuring accountable and transparent governance or as a punitive measure to target individual NGOs..”
Vijai Pratap, the organiser of Samajwadi Samagam who is also associated with various NGOs, expressed similar fears. “We should all be accountable to general public…But at this juncture it seems the ruling establishment wants to shrink the space of political action and civil action….”
Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh said the government had received several representations from MPs and other stakeholders. On July 25, a delegation of MPs had also met PM Narendra Modi demanding deletion of the provision, he said. “Till the present impasse is over, the deadline with regard to government servants (for declaring assets) can be deferred,” Singh said as he moved the amendment.