Considering governmental opposition to the foreign funding of NGOs, it is surprising that the present government seems also to be opposed to a public-private partnership for funding NGOs. According to an Indian Express report (‘Modi govt will have to deal with some members of Sonia’s NAC’, June 25), the government is not keen on continuing funding the Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation (BRLF), an autonomous society to provide arms-length funding to rural civil society organisations.
In December 2013, the BRLF was registered by Mihir Shah, a member of the Planning Commission, Virginius Xaxa, an academic and Mirai Chatterjee, an expert in health delivery and head of SEWA Ahmedabad. In its general body and executive council were other well-known names. The BRLF was envisaged as an autonomous public-private partnership to fund grassroots NGOs, replacing the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Development (Capart), a body under the rural development ministry and plagued with inefficiency and corruption. A few months before the 2014 elections, the UPA’s rural development ministry under Jairam Ramesh signed an MoU with the BRLF, making it a funding agency for NGOs across the country, and giving it Rs 200 crore as a first tranche to be followed by Rs 300 crore over the next two years.
The idea of the BRLF was entirely laudable: to raise funds from all sources, public and private, including companies, international agencies, private foundations and, of course, Central and state governments, to provide non-partisan, need-based financial grants to civil society organisations. Professionally staffed, with an eminent chairman not from the government, it was meant to overcome the many objections raised against foreign funding and the deficiencies of government funding, such as red tape, corruption and inflexible grants not tailored to need. It was also meant to insulate NGO funding from the political instability and interference that marred Capart’s functioning. Unfortunately for the fledgling entity, many of the 30-member executive committee were also members of the National Advisory Council under Sonia Gandhi, and reportedly this has brought upon it a review to determine its fate.
But the mere fact of the association of politically unacceptable people with it should not trash what is otherwise a laudable innovation in funding. A strong civil society is built upon and draws its strength from people who work together for the betterment of that society, without depending on government for everything. But to do that it must have access to an independent source of funds. Decentralisation is important to take democracy and development to the grassroots.
Though over 29 functions were devolved to local bodies, rural and urban, by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, a corresponding devolution of resources has not happened. So neither panchayats nor rural continued…