After the IB report red-flagging civil society groups, the Narendra Modi government asked all Ministries to report back with the list of NGOs they deal with. There is one that may cause some heartburn in the NDA.
Thanks to Jairam Ramesh, the Modi government will have to shell out Rs 300 crore — over the next two years — and deal with a society registered in the UPA regime packed with “eminent persons” which include members of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council.
Barely two months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were announced, the UPA’s Rural Development Ministry under Ramesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation making it a funding agency for NGOs across the country. And released to it a first tranche of Rs 200 crore in January 2014.
Ramesh got Cabinet approval in September 2013 to create BRLF replacing Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) that used to provide grants to NGOs from the Ministry. What will rankle the Modi government is the fact that this society was registered in December that year by members of the then National Advisory Council Mihir Shah, Virginius Xaxa and Mirai Chatterjee among others.
The other founding signatories include: Nicholas Barla, a social activist associated with the Catholic Church in Odisha; Bihar cadre IAS officer AS Mathew; S Parasuraman, Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and activist Pramathesh Ambastha.
The Rural Development Ministry nominated Mihir Shah, erstwhile NAC member and former member, Planning Commission, under the UPA regime, as president of the BRLF for the next three years — a term which can be renewed for another three years.
The BRLF’s Memorandum of Association allows it to “raise financial resources” even from “international agencies/organizations” apart from other sources like Central or state governments and private sources with the purpose to “provide financial grants to civil society organisations (CSOs).”
The general body of the BRLF includes environmental activist Sunita Narain, social activist PV Rajagopal, former NAC member Anu Aga along with Mahesh Rangarajan.
Ramesh did not respond to repeated requests for comments on this issue.
The 30-member Executive Committee of BRLF constituted subsequently has a majority of UPA nominees: Shah and a select group of 14 “eminent persons” and a representative from the Ford Foundation.
The four representatives of the Central government (secretaries of Rural Development, Tribal, Panchayati Raj and Tribal Affairs among others) and three representatives from state governments (chief secretaries of state governments with significant tribal population Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha) are in a minority.
When contacted, Shah said there was no question of any partisanship when it came to funding NGOs. “Even before joining the NAC or Planning Commission, I have had 30 years of social work in tribal areas in central India. We have volunteered to be CAG and RTI compliant. Nothing will be opaque,” Shah told The Indian Express.
Another of the founding members of the independent society rejected suggestions of partisanship because of participation of NAC members and justified BRLF’s constitution as a counter to international funding agencies.
“BRLF is meant to be an indigenous funding agency in response to international funding of agencies. If we have indigenous funding, small NGOs working at grass roots level will benefit. Irrespective of the political colour of the government, there is a need for an Indian funding entity,” said S Parasuraman, Director, TISS Mumbai. He is one of the seven signatories to the Memorandum of Association of the BRLF.
“Just because some people worked with the previous government should not invite political affiliation to their work,” Parasuraman said.