March 1, 2012 12:06:15 am
Lets not jump to conclusions,in an infomation vacuum,about the vices or virtues of NGOs there
The prime ministers recent comments to the journal Science on the foreign funding of Indian NGOs and the deportation of a German national,Sonntag Reiner Hermann,has generated much heat,with newspaper reports feeding further analysis and comment.
Let us first consider the prime ministers remarks. His full answer,in a reply to question about the moratorium on BT brinjal,was: But there are controversies. There are NGOs,often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries,which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces… You know,for example,whats happening in Koodankulum (in southern India,where local-led protests have stalled the commission of two 1000-megawatt reactors). The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs,mostly I think based in the United States,dont appreciate the need for our country to increase energy supply.
He did not say all NGOs are foreign funded or that all foreign funded NGOs are involved in these controversies. So are there any NGOs in India who are in the forefront of these agitations and who are funded from foreign sources? It is not too difficult to get some data on some of these NGOs. Let us take the example of the NGO X where the Indian NGO is a part (sort of a branch office) of an international NGO,which is very active in the areas mentioned by the PM. According to the audited financial balance sheet of this NGO,the fundraising activities of the Indian branch (in the latest year for which data is available),cost them Rs 6.249 crore and brought in Rs 8.089 crore,resulting in a net income of Rs 1.84 crore. Their other organisational support expenses were Rs 2.7705 crore. This means their India operations cost them,for fundraising activities and office support,Rs. 9.0196 crore while income from Indian fundraising was only Rs. 8.089 crore. In addition to these office expenses they had spent Rs 5.275 crore on their various campaigns,including anti-nuclear and anti-BT campaigns. The shortfall between their revenue and expenditure was met fully and wholly from international grants to the tune of Rs 5.505 crore. In short,but for their foreign donations,they would not have been able even to run their offices let alone their anti-development campaigns. This true of almost all other NGOs active in these fields. It is not known that the NGOs active on the Koodankulum issue have made public their sources of income. Getting foreign contribution is no crime. However,the PM was entirely in the right when he said there are some NGOs active in these fields whose activities are funded solely from foreign sources and whose campaigns are dictated by the agenda of their donors.
What about the deportation of the German national? First,he was not a tourist in the traditional sense. He was an anti-nuclear activist and he was known to the local agitators. Press reports quote S.P. Udayakumar,who is leading the agitation against the Koodankulum project,as saying: He is a tourist and I know him. He has been coming to Nagercoil for many years. He has nothing to do with Koodankulum protests. Further,Dr Udayakumar is reported to have told the media that Hermann was an anti-nuclear activist,who participated in all anti-nuclear struggles around the globe,that he was present during the struggles at Jaitapur in Maharashtra and had visited Koodankulum two years ago.
Again,it is not a crime to be an anti-nuclear activist or to know and visit local anti-nuclear activists. Without ascertaining the funds that he brought with him when he entered India and that he had when he was deported,it would be difficult to come to any conclusion about his financing of the local NGOs. However,what is also not clear is whether his deportation was voluntary or forced,that is,whether he chose to be deported rather than be charged with criminal or civil offences. What could these offences be? Hermann seems to have been active for a long period in the Koodankulum area. All nuclear plant areas are sensitive these days,especially after 9/11. If,for instance he was in possession of a large number of photos of the nuclear installation,that would be a major cause for concern and quite possibly an offence given that No Photography Allowed is a common feature around the perimeter of nuclear installations. In such a case,given the choice between deportation and a criminal charge,he might have preferred deportation. We have no information on these matters. It would be advisable for the government to come out with further facts. Till then it is premature to pass any judgement on the actions of the government.
While acknowledging the role of NGOs in a democracy,and preserving space for dissent,the casual suggestion that environmental impact assessments are untrustworthy is not responsible. While there may be much that is wrong with the way India is governed,to presume that all the governments actions are malafide and that all NGOs are as pure as driven snow is a simple fantasy.
The writer is visiting fellow at IDSA and the National Maritime Foundation
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