A NITI Aayog group is working on a national policy to regulate civil society organisations following directions from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Constituted in September last year, the Working Group for Formulation of New National Policy for Voluntary Sector, chaired by Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar, has begun receiving recommendations, including those from the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau under the Finance Ministry’s Department of Revenue, officials said.
The working group includes Joint Secretaries of the Financial Action Task Force division of Department of Economic Affairs as well as the Counter Terrorism and Counter Radicalisation Division/Combating of Funding of Terrorist Cell in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“There is no regulatory mechanism at the national level to regulate the functioning of the civil society. This is one of the initiatives of the Niti Aayog because no ministry focuses on it. We want to come up with a national-level framework to self-regulate or regulate civil society organisations who violate the government mandate and to bring some standard among them,” an official of the Niti Aayog said.
“There are more than 32 lakh civil society organisations registered under different Acts but the actual contributors to societal development are very few. Maybe some 4,000 have any impact on the ground,” the official said.
Although a 2007 policy by the erstwhile Planning Commission is in place, the official said several violations of the new regulatory additions, including to the Foreign Contribution Regulation (FCRA), led to this call for a revamped policy.
Niti Aayog launched a portal – DARPAN – in 2016 at the PM’s recommendation for mandatory registration of civil society organisations. To receive tax exemptions, organisations must make a Unique ID on this portal. The portal, with a little over 1 lakh registrations, collects data about funding through CSR, central ministries, state governments and FCRA. Niti Aayog also insists on GIS mapping of NGOs’ projects and is working on DARPAN 2.0.
Last year, Parliament passed new restrictions under the FCRA, reducing foreign funds cap to 20 per cent among other measures.
Explaining the need to revamp the old policy, the government official also emphasised that the framework will ensure the Indian government abides by the guidelines of the FATF, a global body aimed at preventing money laundering and terrorist financing.
Jagdananda, co-founder of the Centre for Youth and Social Development and member of the working group, said many aspects of the 2007 policy were never implemented. “The group aims to look at various aspects of the 2007 policy and may like to propose a clear action plan along with an enabling policy for a healthy partnership between the government and the civil society organisations,” he said.
The group also includes top officials from the ministries of Rural Development, Law and Justice, Home Affairs, Corporate Affairs as well as heads of Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, Tata Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pradhan, Sulabh International, National HRD Network, Charities Aid Foundation, Give India Foundation, Global Givings and United Nations.
A separate group of at least 30 members – NITI CSO Standing Committee of Civil Society Organisations and Other Development Partners – was given a four-year mandate in August last year to also “suggest improvements in existing laws and policies” and improve “engagement of CSOs [civil society organisations]”. Its terms of reference includes: “the Standing Committee should also support the Government… relating to… schemes/programmes for the youths of Jammu and Kashmir.”
This group has 17 sub-groups under thematic areas such as Child Rights, Health, and Human Trafficking. However, when contacted by The Indian Express, several members of this group and sub-groups were unaware of the parallel policy making that Niti Aayog is engaged in.
Also at the Prime Minister’s recommendation, Niti Aayog had launched a portal called DARPAN in 2016 for mandatory registration of civil society organisations. To receive tax exemptions, the organisations must make a Unique ID on this portal.
“We had come across through some studies that some NGOs had engaged in embezzlement through duplicating their funds. Due to this, the PM insisted that there should be a single platform where all NGOs must register,” a senior government official said.
The portal, with a little over 1 lakh registrations, collects data about funding through CSR, central ministries, state governments and FCRA. Niti Aayog has also been insisting on GIS mapping of NGOs’ projects and is working on DARPAN 2.0.
A source said CSR funding is currently distributed mostly to Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs is also creating a portal to help match corporates and other fund providers to CSR fund seekers, according to officials.
In the 2007 policy called “National Policy on the Voluntary Sector”, the Planning Commission said it “will encourage State Governments to review prevailing laws & rules and simplify, liberalise and rationalise them as far as possible”. It recommended an “independent, national level, self-regulatory agency for the voluntary sector.” It also vocalised a need to “bolster public confidence in the voluntary sector by opening it up to greater public scrutiny.”
After being amended in 2010, new rules under the FCRA by the Home Ministry in 2015 mandated that NGOs do not accept foreign funds affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India, along with other new measures. In 2017, MHA amendments allowed political parties to receive funding from a foreign company’s Indian subsidiary or foreign companies with more than half of their shares owned by Indians.