No profit

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Published: July 3, 2015 12:52:00 AM

The govt doesn't gain from trying to regulate NGOs with the "against national interest" clause

Non-profits in India are understandably stumped by the phrase “against national interest” in the changes to the rules governing NGOs. While non-profit organisations are often at the forefront of many desired changes in the social sector, vested interests have also hindered the development process, painting development activity as anti-people—case in point, the Kundankulam protests that, unfortunately for India, managed to stall the proposed nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu. But, even though the government perhaps intends to screen for such anti-development activity with the catch-all term , the costs of having it far outweigh the merits.

For one, there are, as per a ministry of statistics and program implementation report from 2012, over 31 lakh non-profit institutions in India—one for just over every 400 persons—each with very diverse agendas, from those that are advancing particular religions/faiths to those working on improving rural sanitation. Thus, monitoring for a broad, poorly-defined condition like whether a particular non-profit hinders the nation’s progress, and maintaining records of it, will be both politically and administratively fraught. Secondly, even in the case of those non-profits that impede the nation’s development agenda under the guise of being “pro-people”, precedent has it that government moving to regulate their operations beyond a certain limit immediately gives their causes greater traction apart from unnecessarily tarnishing the government’s image. To be sure, while no one would argue that all non-profits be given a free rein, no matter what their agenda is, there are methods other than tagging them as being “against national interest” to negate vested interests. For instance, running persuasive ground-level counter-campaigns would have more comprehensive effects.

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