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Set up 'National Grants-in-Aid Commission' to check funds' misuse: AHRC
Lamenting that there is little accountability beyond blacklisting on the utilisation of funds being provided by the governments to various Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Voluntary Organisaitons (VOs), the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) recommended to the Government of India to establish a 'National Grants-in-Aid Commission'.

It suggested that all grants to the voluntary sector by all the ministries be routed and the “National Grants-in-Aid Commission” be made responsible for all aspects, inter alia, calls for proposals, selection of proposals, monitoring of implementation, review of reports, recovery of funds etc.

The ACHR has released the report “India’s Funds to NGOs Squandered”, the first ever study on conducted on funding to NGOs by the Government of India. According to the information collected on the volume of funds provided by various government agencies in the country through RTI, during last three years, it said both state and central governments have been providing more than Rs 950 crore grants every year.

If a conservative estimate of 15% is used as a “bribe to process the applications”, AHRC alleged that during the Fiscal Years 2002-2003 to 2008-2009 at least Rs. 1000 crores have been spent on bribes paid to different layers of officials for approval of the projects.

In order to address the malaise, in the interim period, ACHR has requested the Government of India to direct (i) all the Ministries to do away with current process of recommendations by the District Magistrates and the State Governments, invite applications through open call for proposals, consider the applications on merits by independent evaluators, and conduct necessary verification only after short-listing of the applicants; and (ii) direct all the Central Ministries, the State Governments and Union Territories to make all information pertaining to the grants to voluntary sector including recommendations of the State governments publicly available as part of the voluntary disclosure under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The report mentioned that various figures on volume of funds stated here are only an indicative, as they were unable to get information in this regard from many state governments and governmental agencies. It also mentioned that Central government ministries provided much less figures under the RTI applications in comparison to information placed before the Parliament. It also pointed out that little information was made available with respect to many flagship programmes including MGNREGA.

The report pointed out that the selection procedure for the grantees lacks transparency. All the ministries claim that applications are selected on the basis of merit. But how that merit is determined is unclear. In reality, merit matters little. There is a mandatory requirement of recommendations from the state governments, which facilitates corruption. In overwhelming majority of the cases only those voluntary organizations, which are close to the government officials or those who have control over the officials/NGOs i.e. political leaders are selected.

Field studies by ACHR suggest that selection of grantees is often determined not on ability or technical expertise but rather on the applicant’s ability to pay a bribe. The NGOs interviewed by the ACHR alleged that they were required to pay bribes amounting to 15% to 30% of the grant to get their applications approved.

Pointing out the absence of any accountability, the report mentioned that the CAPART under the Ministry of Rural Development sanctioned 24,760 projects during 1 September 1986 to 28 February 2007 involving a total sanctioned grant of Rs 252,02,44,12.56. Out of these, 511 NGOs were placed under the blacklist category due to irregularities committed. But only 10 cases were referred to the CBI for investigation while the FIRs were lodged against only 101 NGOs.

The problem with blacklisting is reflected from the fact that CAPART even released Rs. 46,83,142 to five blacklisted NGOs namely Nirmala Weaker Section (Andhra Pradesh), Sarvodaya Ashram (Bihar), Magadh Social Development Society (Bihar), Pazhakulam Social Service Society (Kerala) and Vijay Warangal Trust (Maharashtra) in 2009.

Though, 7, 916 Utilisation Certificates from the grantees for grants worth Rs 596.79 crores have not been received by the MoEF, the National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board under the MoEF had filed only seven FIRs and only one voluntary organization from Orissa had returned the money in November 2009.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development alone blacklisted 389 NGOs and further assistance to these organizations from the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK) scheme has been stopped. Three organizations viz. the Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB), an autonomous organization, and Indian Council of Child Welfare (ICCW) and Bharatiya Adim Jati Sewak Sangh (BAJSS) acting as ‘mother’ outfits for the Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme were allocated a sum of Rs 110 crores annually since 2006.

There were reports of irregularities and pursuant to an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 filed by the ACHR the Ministry of Women and Child Development confirmed that the Ministry had ordered an investigation and requested the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to check the authenticity of the Chartered Accountants engaged by these three organizations.

The grants to the NGOs given by the Government of India have been increasing and as per the RTI responses, the amount increased from Rs 561 crores in 2002-2003 to Rs 835 crores in 2008-2009. As India involves the NGOs/ VOs in the implementation of its programmes more than ever, the report said that India must realize that funding to voluntary sector is not something that can any longer be done as part time job of the government officials, many of whom are the ultimate and illegal beneficiaries of the funds granted to the voluntary sector.

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