Crackdown on NGOs draconian

The NDA government’s continuing crackdown on non-government organisations (NGOs) is wrong and unjustified. Ever since the government came to power, it has targeted NGOs working in different fields and the action has taken different forms. Earlier governments have also not been friendly to them but the present dispensation’s policy and actions have stood out starkly for its vindictiveness, scale and spread of impact and even crudeness. A woman activist of Greenpeace India was dramatically offloaded from her flight as if she were a criminal fleeing the law. It was actually the government which violated her legal and human rights, as the court made it clear later. But the government, undaunted, has gone further ahead and spread its net far and wide, attacking a large number of organisations, choking and victimising them. A smear campaign has also been undertaken simultaneously to show them in a poor light, even making it out that they are anti-national.

Thousands of NGOs have been hit in the clampdown. Licences of 2,406 organisations were cancelled last week. Registration of 13,470 others had been annulled in two earlier rounds of action in recent weeks. This was on the charge of not following rules and regulations governing foreign funding. The victims include some of the most respectable and responsible institutions and bodies in fields like education, medical care, social service and others, like the national institutes of technology, rotary clubs and the Supreme Court Bar Association. The effect would be to shut down the financial sources of many of them and make it difficult for them to work. Some of them may be able to survive and continue their work with alternative ways of financial support but a large number are bound to perish, as it will be difficult for them to get back their licences.

The government is also planning to force them to undertake not to use foreign aid for “activities detrimental to national interest, likely to affect public interest, or likely to prejudicially affect the security, scientific, strategic or economic interest of the country”. It is certain that many activities like protests against nuclear power or big dams or a fight for tribals’ rights as undertaken by the offloaded Greenpeace activist will be covered by this  broad sweep of unacceptable activities. And the government itself decides what these interests are. This is arbitrariness, intolerance, unwillingness to accept alternative ways of thought and methods of development. NGOs serve a vital role by providing
new answers and reaching where governments do not. They embody the democratic spirit. The campaign against them is bad and prejudiced and should stop.

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