The Supreme Court’s directive to the Government to audit nearly 30 lakh non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will certainly come as a major crackdown on the misuse of public funds by these organisations. The apex court’s intervention, though delayed, is welcome. To simplify matters, it will be better if all political parties come together to help the Government streamline the erring NGOs. Had the Government taken the step to audit the NGOs, it would have been branded as a curtailer of liberal values. However, now with the Supreme Court’s order, opposition parties must keep their bias aside and in the nation’s interest ensure that the honest taxpayer’s money does not go down the drain anymore. The apex court’s order is also unprecedented because, perhaps, this is for the first time that action against erring NGOs has been ordered.
Earlier, certain NGOs were just in the blacklist of the Government. Moreover, this order will also serve as an ultimatum to these organisations and will, hopefully, discipline a large number of NGOs/voluntary organisations that have been misusing public funds for decades. A status report submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the court said that some of the States did not have sufficient laws to make the NGOs transparent with regard to their financial dealings. This is indeed shocking. All States must have adequate regulatory mechanisms to keep track of the money issued to the NGOs. When these Governments have allowed them to use public funds, there should have been time-bound audit systems in place to assess the same. Since there have been enough gaps in the public audit system, the NGOs/voluntary agencies have taken Government departments and Ministries for a ride. And also, some of the dubious elements have quietly got into the system and in the name of opening such agencies, they have siphoned huge funds from the Government exchequer. But the question is: Why did successive Governments allow NGOs which did not even file annual tax returns for so long, remain off the hook? It is not an issue that has just come up under the current NDA regime; it has deep roots in the past. The Modi Government cannot be faulted for acting now.
When the court intervened, it came to light that the General Financial Rules 2005 mandate a regulatory mechanism for NGOs and voluntary organisations. If this is so, then Union Governments should have put in place sufficient checks and balances to prevent the misuse of public funds from the start. If such steps had been taken, problem would not have assumed the proportion that it has. But now, as the court has ordered the Government to criminally prosecute some of the NGOs who have cooked their books or have been involved in misappropriation of funds, the ‘better late than never’ principle can be hailed. As the court has asked the Government to frame guidelines for the accreditation of the NGOs in time for the next hearing, it will put enough pressure on the departments and Ministries concerned to set the ball in motion. We need to salute the action taken by the court. It’s also a wake-up call to the public also to monitor the activities of the NGOs, just as the NGOs monitor the Government’s functioning.
Courtesy: The Pioneer