Biswarup Ganguly [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

May 10, 2017; The Wire

In a recent hearing, India’s Supreme Court explored the possibility of a new law to regulate NGO fund utilization. However, in a recent article in India’s The Wire, Pushpa Sundar wrote, “What is needed is not just a law to regulate NGOs, but a comprehensive reform of the entire NGO charity sector.”

One of the Supreme Court’s proposals requires NGOs to “furnish a bond equivalent to the grant given to them, to be enacted by the government in case the funds are misused or misappropriated.” NPQ has been following India’s crackdown on nonprofits accepting foreign aid and those that lack accountability.

Sundar advises that any new regulator should also focus on implementing and enforcing the laws already in effect. Further, she proposes that the role of a charities regulator is “to effectively secure compliance with the charity laws of the land in a fair, transparent and nonpartisan manner, free from political influence to enhance public trust and confidence in both the regulator and the charities.”

A report written by the Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy some years ago (when Sundar was the director) made reform recommendations still relevant today. In addition to short-term measures for the implementation and enforcement of current laws, it proposed the simplification of procedures, and the monitoring of malpractice and applications of sanctions. “It had also recommended a public register of charities to serve as a central record, like they have in Hong Kong, UK, and other countries.”

However, the report notes that in order to overcome systemic problems, the Supreme Court should enact a “comprehensive central law to legally incorporate non­profit organizations, perhaps along the lines of the Charities Act in the UK…which gives it jurisdiction over all matters concerning charities, including regulatory powers.” Further, the new law “should be flexible enough to offer registration for different types or organizations (trusts, societies and companies),” distinguishing between development organizations, chambers, and other professional membership bodies. The new agency could be called “the National Charities Commission, as in the UK.” This hope that comprehensive NGO reform will ensure not only accountability but political impartiality may or may not work, but it almost certainly requires some organizing of associations outside of the government’s purview so that the sector’s voice is coherent and independent.—Cyndi Suarez