For a country which till recently had a weak civil society movement, India is now witnessing a boom in the NGO sector. With a population of 1.2 billion, the country could well be the land of opportunities for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the Central Bureau of Investigation conservatively estimating 20 lakh of them already operating in states and union territories.
The mind-boggling figures boil down to one NGO per every 600 people. Compare this to the latest government data on police. According to the latest figures from the Union home ministry, India has just one policeman for every 943 people.
But there is an accountability deficit among the NGOs. And that’s how CBI got into the picture as the Supreme Court responded to a PIL. Many don’t submit details of receipt of grant and spending to income tax authorities, the CBI told the apex court.
On the SC’s order, the CBI sought information from the states and UTs about operation of NGOs and status of audit of their funds. Major states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh — have provided no data about the number of NGOs operating in their territory.
Without the statistics from these major states, the CBI was informed by other states about the existence of 13 lakh NGOs making the agency conservatively estimate that their number could go well be over 20 lakh. In Uttar Pradesh alone 5,48,194 NGOs are operating.
Kerala had 3,69,137 NGOs, Maharashtra 1,07,797, Madhya Pradesh 1,40,000 and Gujarat has 75,729 NGOs. While Kerala and Maharashtra have given details of finances of the NGOs operating in their area, Madhya Pradesh gave partial information about their funding. Gujarat was completely silent.
According to information received through RTI queries by Asian Centre for Human Rights, the Union and state governments between 2002-09 released Rs 6654 crore to various NGOs, averaging almost Rs 950 crore per year.
For the financial year 2010-11, available data show that about 22,000 NGOs received a total of more than $2 billion from abroad, of which $650 million came from the US.
On a PIL filed by advocate M L Sharma alleging misuse of funds by Anna Hazare’s NGO Hind Swaraj Trust (HST), a bench headed by Justice H L Dattu had last year asked additional solicitor general Sidharth Luthra to engage the CBI to find out details of the funding of NGOs across the country and whether these were filing their income tax returns.
From the information made available by the state governments and presented in tabular form by the CBI to the Supreme Court, it was apparent that most NGOs had not filed income tax returns regularly.
In two years, the trust spent Rs 63,243 on paying honorarium, Rs 20,347.50 was accounted towards travel expenses and Rs 6,487.50 was spent on printing and stationery. This means, of the Rs 1 lakh granted for watershed development in three villages, the trust spent Rs 90,078 on honorarium, travelling and printing and stationery.