NGOs: A silent scam

Print edition : February 22, 2013

ACCORDING to a recent study by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), a non-governmental organisation, Central and State governments have provided at least Rs.6,654.36 crore to NGOs as grants during 2002-09. What is shocking is that in an overwhelming number of cases, almost 97 per cent, the NGOs have not furnished utilisation certificates indicating the purpose for which the grants were given. Nor have the governments asked for these certificates. Besides, a number of blacklisted NGOs have changed their names in order to continue being beneficiaries of the grant. There has been no follow-up action even in those cases where irregularities have been detected. In short, there has been no accountability about where the money was going, whether it was being spent for the purpose for which it was given, who was taking it, and on what criteria. It has also come to light that the beneficiary NGOs spent over 15-20 per cent of their grant in getting their proposal processed, which meant that this money went in bribes, which the NGOs obviously recovered from the grant.

“It is a huge scam. While the guidelines for NGO funding are excellent, there is no transparency in how the beneficiary NGOs are selected, whether they utilise the funds because there have been no utilisation certificates in a large number of cases, and, most significantly, no accountability on the part of either the officials or the NGOs,” said Suhas Chakma, director, ACHR, which recently released the study, titled “India’s funds to NGOs squandered”. Conducted over three years since 2009, it consists of over 710 pages of Right to Information (RTI) replies from various Central Ministries and State government departments. ACHR has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. “Selection of grantees did not depend on their ability or technical expertise, but their closeness to officials, their networking skills and their ability to pay bribes,” Chakma alleged.

Even in cases where irregularities have been brought to light, there is hardly any action ever: files go missing, no officials are ever punished, and no NGOs are hauled up for fraud, he says. The office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), while auditing the National Afforestation and Eco-development programmes by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, commented that there was the possibility of a huge scam by the NGOs/voluntary organisations as 7,916 utilisation certificates from the grantees for Rs.596.79 crore from 1981-2009 were not submitted and none of the grantees came back for the second instalment of the grant after availing itself of the first instalment.

Purnima S. Tripathi