Chitra Subramaniam & Dhanya Rajendran| The News Minute| 3.10 pm IST
The first point that strikes you about the leaked parts of the Intelligence Bureau report on NGOs in India is that it reads like a report written by a poorly-funded NGO looking for funds.
The second thing that stares you in the face is - who benefits from this noise? In other words, why is such an anecdotal, nothing substantially new and poorly referenced report such an issue at a moment when internal and external security threats to India are serious and live? In other words, what are the people who leaked the report trying to hide?
Read a summary of the report by The News Minute (TNM) here.
It is nobodyâ€™s case that secret and open funding of civil society groups in India need serious enquiry. There are more NGOs in India than schools and it is common knowledge that many NGO are ambulance-chasers and disaster-seekers. They sprout when thereâ€™s a calamity and laugh all the way to the bank before disappearing into the sunset. When tsunami struck the Indian coast, hundreds of NGOs sprouted from thin air, and in weeks they too were washed away. No one knows whether funds they received from people across the world were used for tsunami victims.
Additionally, many Indian politicians and businesspeople head NGOs. They have privileged access to information and request for proposals (RFPs), they network in closed circuits and divide the spoils between themselves. There is an international pattern to this and there is an Indian angle given that India is potentially the worldâ€™s largest internal market. There is nothing typically Indian about theft other maybe the scale and diversity given the countryâ€™s profile and needs.
But to raise this report â€“ first accessed by the Indian Express â€“ as evidence of threat to national security and a â€œâ€¦2-3% loss to GDPâ€ smacks of a drain-inspectorâ€™s mind and calculation. Just for a perspective â€“ Baghdad has just fallen, Afghanistan is shaking, water and power crisis in the country is taking its toll, random violence is unabated. The 21-page report names several agitations ranging from Kudankulam to GMOs, the Narmada Bachao Andolan to tribal rights and steel projects in Orissa.
The first line of the report dated June 3rd 2014 is a give-away. It says NGOs from Germany, US, UK and the Netherlands â€œhave been noticed to be using people-centric issues which lends itself to stalling development policies.â€ What else in an NGO supposed to do â€“ focus on?
The report details legal sources of funding, seminars, talks and dharnas all if which happened in the public domain and are publicly documented. Some of the maps marked â€œsecretâ€ in the report are available on the internet and entire paragraphs appear to be the work of a group of interns working on a high-school project.
If the data is not referenced, the language has no grammar and tense and clearly shows that reports like these will have little future if they want to become part of serious discourse in the country. People who have worked with NGOs and funded them will confirm that there is no way you can know for sure what the money is used for or directed against. Large NGOs raise funds that run into millions of dollars and they channel them mostly through processes that do not require any reporting and evaluation. Common-interest NGOs also bid jointly for state and private funding and the United States remains by far the largest source of funding for civil society groups.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of this leaked report episode is that attention is drawn away from work undertaken by groups that are seriously working against Indiaâ€™s national interests. These groups belong to all political parties, and come in all forms, languages, religious persuasion and goals. Finally, if the worldâ€™s largest democracy cannot protect its own interests through its institutions, processes and people, then the problem is not with an intelligence report. It is with intelligence itself.