All hell has broken out following the leakage of an alleged IB report questioning the integrity of some NGOs in the country. A specific charge attributed to the IB is that some NGOs have come to notice for utilising a part of the funds received by them towards financing agitations against the government. There are, however, two caveats here. We do not know whether the IB did indeed report on the lines suggested by media stories. We cannot expect a sensitive security organisation to either deny or own the confidential document said to have been compromised. Secondly, and more importantly, whether the NGOs in the country are actually guilty of the misdemeanour attributed to them.
In a large country as ours governmental effort needs to be supplemented by dedicated private bodies in order to assist sections of the society who are crying for development in the areas of sanitation, health and education. They are also required to disseminate vital knowledge in several sectors to citizens who do not have access to objective information. To achieve their objectives, NGOs do need funding, especially from foreign aid agencies.
I agree it would be unfair to paint all NGOs with the same brush. However, to take umbrage at honest criticism of their functioning, as some NGOs have now done rather sharply, is to be undemocratic and arbitrary. Every one of us — as citizens or members of a public body — is subject to scrutiny by government or the media in matters of public import. My own impression — built on the basis of my experience at least in one state — is that some NGOs are dubious and are a law unto themselves. They resent even the slightest demand for accountability. It is for this reason that I am inclined to believe what is attributed to the IB with regard to NGO activities in the country.
One fundamental question is how far is the IB responsible and professional while investigating NGOs. Although my knowledge of the organization is dated — having left it two decades ago after a 15-year tenure in it — whatever I have learnt from the sidelines has been positive. The organisation continues to be largely professional. It enjoys reasonable freedom of reporting, except during short spells, when it had to report to one or two supercilious or heavily politicised home ministers. The point often missed by many critics is that the IB is not a legal entity, and it does not enjoy any legal authority. It is also not the last word on tasks assigned to it.
The bureau can at best be used to verify some information already available with the government. Its reports cannot be cited in a court of law to justify any administrative action of the government. It is, therefore, preposterous to assail the IB as a politically motivated or an irresponsible agency. Yes, it does help the Executive to collect information, for instance, in the matter of judicial appointments. This is a crucial and critical part of the IB’s charter, and the organisation has to be pretty accurate in its reporting. It cannot play around with facts and tailor its reports to cater to those in authority. If it has now raised doubts about some NGOs, IB must have advanced verifiable facts and not conjectures.
In the final analysis, NGOs cannot get away from the need to subject themselves to the ordinary laws of the land. They cannot enjoy unrestricted access to foreign funds. Applications for accepting such money will be allowed only after a due scrutiny of the donors. NGOs can legitimately complain only about delays in processing their requests or about any corruption in the process. They need to understand that the Executive has the prerogative to permit or deny requests for acceptance of foreign funds. This is a requirement from the point of view of national security, and no honest citizen can complain on this score.
The writer is a former CBI Director