Role of the Indian NGO Sector in the Public Policy Making Process Presentation for the South Asian Studies Association’s Brown Bag Radio 11:00 am – 12 noon HST, September 30, 2008 Muthusami Kumaran Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Public Administration & Public Policy University of Hawaii—Manoa Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
While it is hard to predict the total number of NGOs operating in the country due to the lack of systematic records, according to estimates there are between 1.2 million – 1.5 million NGOs operating currently .
A great majority of the NGOs are small and about three-fourths of all NGOs are run entirely by volunteers or a few part time employees. About 13% of the NGOs have between 2 – 5 employees; about 5% have between 6 – 10 employees and only about 8.5% (one in every 12) NGOs employ more than 10 people.
In spite of the limitations in their size and resources, NGOs in the area of environment, health, education, peace, human rights, consumer rights and women's rights provide convincing examples of the power of the sector’s action in social change.
NGOs are registered as trusts , societies , or as private limited non profit companies , under Section-25 of Indian Companies Act, 1956. Section 2(15) of the Income Tax Act gives them tax exemption.
Foreign contributions to non-profits are governed by Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA, 1976) regulations and the Home Ministry.
Two theoretical explanations for the growth of the NGO sector:
1. The Market Failure theory: NGOs emerged to provide services that the public sector cannot or will not provide, and services for which the for-profit businesses cannot get sufficient return on their investment.
2. The Contract Failure theory: NGOs were created to provide services where the parties who want them offered were not in a position to provide these services themselves. These parties were donors or well wishers of the clients receiving the services.
In the initial years after independence, there was some attention given towards the NGO sector by the Central Government mainly because most of the NGOs were Gandhian in nature.
It was not until 1980 (Sixth Five Year Plan 1980-1985), the government identified new areas in which NGOs as new actors could participate in social development.
During the next five FYPs, the government has increasingly recognized the NGO sector’s vital role and has provided increasing levels of funding. In the past two decades, all levels of the government have increased their engagements with the sector .
Since the late 1970s, the NGO sector has been playing a steadily increasing and active role in influencing government policies that affect the society.
Of the nation’s nearly 1.1 billion inhabitants, an estimated 350-400 million live below the poverty line mainly due to illiteracy and poor health.
Since 1980, many NGO groups across the country have taken an alternative ‘social action’ approach by politicizing the issue of poverty, directly challenging many of the social programs established by the government and eventually shifting the policy base.
The worst of all social injustices and inequalities had been the way Indian women were subjected to multiple forms and contexts of domination.
Since 1970s women’s movement began to take shape, gradually shifting emphasis from the critique of gender inequality to issues like gender discrimination at the work place, unequal wages and the domestic labor. NGOs such as SEWA have played dominant roles in women’s economic independence.
Among the most significant policy development that these NGOs were able to achieve was the introduction of 33% reservation for women in local, village-level elections.
In the last two decades, the spread of HIV/AIDS has taken on an epidemic proportion. Yet, the Indian government allocated only $38.8 million between 1999 and 2005 for HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
Numerous dedicated NGOs have emerged to provide excellent services in HIV/AIDS awareness education, prevention and research.
Realizing the critical need for these NGOs and their services, the government invited them to participate in developing health policies related to HIV/AIDS. Currently these NGOs play an active role by providing policy guidelines as well as delivering government funded services to HIV/AIDS patients.
The NGO sector has always been in the forefront in providing recovery, relief and rehabilitation after natural calamities and disasters such as floods, droughts, earthquakes and epidemics.
The government considered this role of NGOs as secondary to the public sector’s disaster management policies and procedures.
The sector’s enormous response in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami convinced the government to seek assistance from NGO groups in developing, coordinating and implementing new disaster management policies .
India has a vibrant and fast growing NGO sector , but unfortunately its role in the society, issues and solutions are little understood by the country’s social scientists due to lack of awareness, interest, and research.
It is paramount that in the upcoming years, social scientists involve in extensive research on all aspects of the NGO sector – especially on management practices, network governance, NGO– government linkages and the sector’s role in the public policy making process.