Emergence of the Non-Profit Sector and the Implications for Governance

With the increase in the numbers of NGO’s, there has been a perception that the government should be kept on its toes because of the watchdog like function that the NGO’s are supposed to perform. Indeed, many governmental schemes like the MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) are subject to social audits and vetting by the NGO’s which is a positive development. These social audits are useful to assess the efficacy of the schemes launched by the government and hence act as deterrents against corrupt practices and leakages of funds.

However, before people jump to the conclusion that the governmental efficiency has been increased because of NGO pressure, there is a note of caution here. Many governmental schemes are outside of the purview of NGO watchfulness and hence, the NGO sector is relatively helpless to guard against corruption and leakage of funds.

Of course, the RTI act or the Right to Information Act is one stellar example of how NGO pressure has forced the government to not only pass the act but also divulge information regarding various schemes. As the examples of thousands of RTI applications and their responses show, the act has been effective in curbing the extravagant behavior and the disclosure of corrupt practices to some extent. Apart from this, the NGO sector has had another positive impact on governance and this relates to the passage of many legislations like the decriminalization of various behaviors that were existing since the time of the British. One example relates to the declassification of alternate sexualities as an offence and indeed, it can be said that NGO sector took the lead in forcing the government to do this. Hence, the emergence of a strong and powerful NGO sector is necessary for democracy to flourish.

Having said that, it must be remembered that many NGO’s themselves are being questioned as to the source of their funding especially when take up causes that hurt the government’s pet schemes. For instance, the government resorted to launching a probe into the sources of funding of the protestors in Kundankulam who were agitating against the Nuclear Plant there. This was criticized by many as an attempt to sidetrack from the main issue. The point here is that the NGO sector has to take these setbacks in its stride and continue to focus on the governance and public welfare duties of the government. Considering that these aspects are very poorly managed in many countries including India, the presence of an active NGO sector is vital to safeguard the democratic institutions.

Finally, in matters related to governance, the NGO sector can play both an activist and an advisory role apart from an agitator’s role. Each of these roles comes with specific focus areas and for effective governance, the NGO’s must be prepared to don all the roles so that when advice fails, then can act, and when action fails, they can agitate. It all boils down to how much pressure is brought on the government to improve governance and strive for public welfare.


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