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NGOs in the Indian Landscape by Dodda Teja Adarsh

India as a country: Our eyes reach the stars, our feet are going down quicksand. With a robust state network system and a far-reaching executive, India is still not even close to even achieving universal access to basic services. This glaring gap is taken care of by the intricate NGO sector.

We will now explore deeply, the various aspects of this system that has developed over the years in India and how it is at the brink of exponential reform but at the same time struggling for revival and still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, while everyone still tries to imagine how India would have made it out of the crisis if not for these organizations. Are we about to bite the hand that fed us in the time of our need?


The NGOs began in Gujrat in 1871 as the Bhil Seva Mandal. It began as a development movement for tribes. Following independence, Mahatma Gandhi sought to convert the Indian National Congress into a voluntary Public Service Organization, but his request was denied.

Later, many service organizations based on Gandhian principles were founded by ardent Mahatma Gandhi supporters. Actually, there was a time when there were plenty in Gujarat and other parts of India as well. Seva, Eklavya, Disha, and others are among them. However, the actual registration of NGOs occurred only in the 1970s, and this surge in the numbers tells us a lot. The government readily accepted and encouraged NGOs. and the upsurge in their numbers.

Post the independence period, there was a change in the perception of the government about the developmental activities and how they would be perceived and implemented by the government itself. Though in the 1950s in the 1960s it was assumed that the economic growth can only be achieved through state implementation of policies and poverty can be thus removed, this changed in the decades after that. Hello there were many welfare programs launched by the government to help the lowest of the poor communities and help them in participating in the various schemes that are aimed at improving the economic growth of the country there were many community development efforts launched by the ministries of agriculture and ministry of rural development 4 helping though public participate in these activities but the responsibility of launching and executing the social welfare programs was vested with the ministries of the state governments itself due to this, the NGOs were approached by the national government and its agencies to help in the execution and far reaching implications of these developmental and welfare programs of these communities especially in the rural areas.

In its sixth Five-Year Plan, the Government of India coined the phrase "GARIBI HATAO." This had an underlying stress for the development of NGOs, and in the seventh five-year plan, they emphasised "Self-Reliance Communities" under rural development. The government has been promoting a national network of non- governmental organizations (NGOs) in the eighth Five-Year Plan. In the ninth Five- year Plan, the government encouraged PPP (Public Private Partnership), and by the tenth Five-year Plan, the government endorsed creating awareness among farmers about innovative farming methods and more initiatives to that end. Not only does the government encourage and promote these NGOs, but it also provides financial assistance to them.


Numerous committees have indeed emphasised their significance in a variety of ways. In 1957, the Balwantry Mehta Committee emphasised the importance of non- governmental organizations (NGOs) in tribal developmental programs. Even in five- year plans, the need for and importance of NGOs was emphasised. Again, the 1966 Rural-Urban Relationship Committee also reaffirmed the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in local government, development through community mobilization. Later, the Dhebar Commission expressed its concerns. Same belief that non-governmental organizations must work at all levels, involving all stakeholders i.e., people from the area. The government of India established another committee known as the Sivaram Committee for tribal community development who have identified the importance of NGOs in the executionary activities for welfare schemes. NGOs have traditionally played a significant role in this regard in terms of developmental activities.

In the Indian Context, NGOs play a crucial role in many ways like:

  • Acting as a societal social valve by organizing public inconvenience and grievances and advocating their problems at higher levels catering to their needs. They act as the voice of the poor and needy.

  • They become a crucial part in the checks and balances system of the Indian state and improve government efficiency and performance by constant maintenance of accountability and public scrutiny. NGOs are also given power to make suggestions and improve the policy making and regulatory capacities by accepting an advisory role.

  • NGOs take up the service-provider role in the society and become the first point of contact and a structured mechanism for the public, especially the disadvantaged communities, who are facing any socio-economic difficulties and lend a valuable helping hand and take part in conflict resolution and thereby cultivating a trust-based environment.

  • They act as a very important catalyst in improving the participation in community activities and thereby bring up the voices and opinions, mainly the underprivileged sections, previously unheard of, especially in a wide and diverse country like India.

  • One of the most significant roles played by an NGO is of empowering women. They have done the best work in improving gender equality and have made major strides in removing stereotypes and barriers faced by women for getting integrated into the monetary economy.

  • These organizations play the most neglected role of ensuring the building of a sustainable environment around us. Since, no one is willing to compromise their present needs, they do the most necessary damage control and ensure that all the development that is being taken up here forth will be sustainable in nature.

In India, and NGO can be formed under 3 aegis:

  1. As a Trust, which will act as a public charitable organization and governed by the Indian Trusts Act of 1882. A Public Charitable Trust has the entire society as its beneficiary and the assets of that trust must be used only for the welfare of the public at large.

  2. As a Society, which will be a voluntary body of large public participation and an elected governing body. It is mandated majorly by the Societies Act, 1860. It will consist of an MOA and regulatory bylaws and must inform the necessary authorities (The Registrar of Society in most cases) about any and all changes in their quorums.

  3. As a Section 8 Company, as a legal entity formed for the purpose of art, culture, charity or any other useful objects. It will be regulated by the Companies Act of 2013. It will be formed similarly to a Public Limited Co. or a Private Limited Co. and the MOA and AOA will act as the legal objects of the company.

Other than this, trade unions and cooperative societies are also sometimes treated as NGOs.


The various political developments like the rise in Marxist belief, the Naxalite movement the Lohiate and Gandhian influenced movements during the 1960s to the 1980s has caused the NGO sector to develop into two distinct types. These were basically developmental NGOs and empowerment-based NGOs. The developmental NGOs took up participatory and innovative approaches to work along the concrete sectoral activities that were in relevance to the various poverty groups in the rural areas of the country. While the empowerment NGOs have formed poverty groups across different communities these and help them in their efforts to address the very root causes of poverty such as the caste and class systems along with the lack of access to markets etc. As a result of these differentiations, there were 4 major types of NGOs that were formed by the late 1980s these are welfare NGOs, development NGOs, empowerment NGOs and social action groups. But the former both types of organizations entered into various collaborative practices with the government the other 2 frequently went against the policies and legislations and asked for reforms and amendments etc.

Currently, we can identify 8 major types of NGOs:

  1. Operational NGOs These are grassroot level organizations working generally in a local or a single small project location focused on developments in that particular area of interest. These organizations are generally very small in size. They majorly consist of charity and welfare-based NGOs, development-based NGOs, and social action groups that are basically focused on mobilising the public of that local unit and empowering them to make use of the services in order to break the cycle of poverty. Ex: MANAVLOK, WOTR

  2. Support NGOs These are basically the group of organizations that provide various services today grassroot level organizations in order to strengthen and support the capacities of these organizations and expand them into a wider ambit and multiple locations. They work with a multitude of government bodies like the Panchayati Raj and district level cooperatives and administrative bodies and provide them with the physical and skill based infrastructural capabilities and also act as the public image of these NGOs by bringing out periodic information about the developments across the arena. Ex. SOSVA, SEARCH

  3. Network NGOs They are the umbrella organizations that are either formal associations or informal union of various grassroot level or support based NGOs woven into an intricate thread of support systems learning from and working with each other into developing the quality of the services that they are engaging in. They act as a forum for the improvement of the activities carried out by these NGOs and take part in lobbying and advocacy. Ex. FEVORD-K

  4. Funding NGOs The very basic activity of the creation of funding NGOs is to provide the financial resources that are required by the operational NGOs in their day-to- day activities. they are designed in such a way to attract financial resources either from Indian or foreign sources to a wide range of activities spread across multiple organizations and areas. Ex. Dorabji Tata Trust, Aga Khan Foundation

  5. Protection NGOs These are the organizations that engage in providing relief for disaster management purposes they are focused on the areas that have been the victims of any natural disasters recently and help the local in upgrading their life and quality by engaging in developmental activities to recover any property loss that has happened as a result of such disasters. Ex. Hind Rise, Rapid Response

  6. Prevention NGOs These types of organizations are created for the purpose of acting as a shield for the citizens and reducing their vulnerability and limit their exposure to fraudulent practices or companies and ensure safety for its consumers. Ex: Common Cause, VOICE

  7. Promotion NGOs This category of organizations has been made to help the developmental paradigm and increase the quality of life by providing better chances and opportunities for people facing degraded life conditions. They embark on this by acting to provide better education sanitation and health services etc. in underprivileged communities. Ex. Unnati, Steps Aid

  8. Transformation NGOs These organizations are basically the various pressure groups that are created to act as a representative body for various underprivileged communities in the political and economic arenas and help in the formulation and implementation of laws and policies in especially local governance structures. Ex. Janagraha


NGOs in India take up various activities like advocacy and raising awareness by taking part in research and analysis and informing the public about the most prevalent issues, acting as a broker between governmental agencies and social groups, a conflict resolutory body, act as a capacity building agent by providing education and training programs, service delivery organizations for government schemes, and acting as a watchdog of the state. There are various organizations working in multiple sectors and contributing to change in the society like:

  • Education With India spending just as much as 3% of its GDP on education despite the benchmark of 6% set in 1968, only increases the importance of NGOs working in this sector. There have been many organizations contributing hugely to the improvement of education and literacy in rural and urban poor areas. They work in different arenas like the K.C. Mahindra Trust working for improving education for girl child, Ibtada working for contemporary skill development- based education through provision of modern infrastructure like computers etc. or the Vidya Poshak who take orphaned children, educate them until they attain a job.

  • Healthcare The huge gaps in the infrastructure on the Indian healthcare system were blatantly exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, despite this, some organizations have worked tirelessly in improving the quality of healthcare received in India. Organizations like Doctors for You, reaching the most neglected and extremely poor areas and providing basic health facilities there, Swasth Foundation building a sustainable rural health ecosystem, CanKids KidsCan improving the lives of cancer afflicted kids.

  • Environment Protection Sustainability is now a very looked after tool and grows in importance as climate change becomes a harsher reality every day, the Indian NGO sector has made significant changes in these perceptions of society and are working towards more increasing green practices. Few like the Mukti foundation working in the revival of the Sunderbans Forest, Environmentalist Foundation of India rejuvenating freshwater lakes and Janmitram Kalyan Samiti promoting solar fields.

  • Human Trafficking Estimates say that every year, 16 million people, mostly women and children are victims of human trafficking in India and in most cases end up as sex workers with nowhere to go, there are many dedicated organization working towards improving and rehabilitating these victims. Some of these are Rescue foundation working to integrate victimized kids back into regular life, Prajwala running transition centers for women in prostitution and their children, Vipla working on getting women involved in prostitution employable through skill development.

  • Mental Health With an abysmal mental health physician to person rate of 1-1,00,000; India needs a lot of progress done on the awareness of mental health. Some of them are Mindroot Foundation combating mental illnesses and substance abuse in rural children and LonePack removing stigma among students across India.


CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is becoming an increasingly important component of a company's overall strategy. Corporate social responsibility refers to a company's conformity with its social and environmental responsibilities. Under this philosophy, businesses choose to actively contribute to a healthier society and a peaceful world. Corporations use the concept "social and environmental responsibility" to identify their desire to incorporate social and environmental aspects into their organizational processes and stakeholder relationships. It is defined by its business practices and social investments. Businesses, according to the sustainability principle, should make their decisions based not only on profits and dividends, but also on current and long social and environmental consequences. CSR is an organization's duty on the effect of its actions and functions on society, the environment, as well as its own financial well-being, which is sometimes referred to as the TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE of people, planet, and profit. Charitable impulses in family businesses develop into long-term coordinated philanthropic activities, leading to the formation of corporate social responsibility. CSR involves every unit and staff, and each has a specific task to complete. CSR is also a company-wide initiative that encompasses manufacturing, distribution, and even marketing. Over the last four years, the Companies Act of 2013 has provided Corporate Sustainability in India a new outlook on life. Companies with a net worth of Rs 500 crores or more, income of Rs 1,000 crores or more, and a profit margin of Rs 5 crores or more are necessary to submit a minimum investment in corporate social responsibility in order to comply with the law. India is the first country to impose a cap on CSR spending. The Indian government has launched new CSR requirements that oblige businesses to promote a brighter future in order to promote a brighter future and to invest 2 percent of their net profit in social development. Until the 1990s, philanthropy was the dominant concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Companies that view CSR as a philanthropic act are more likely to make one-time financial gifts rather than investing in socially responsible ventures. Furthermore, when implementing such programs, companies failed to consider

stakeholders, lowering the quality and effectiveness of their CSR efforts. However, social responsibility has evolved in recent years. Giving as a benevolent act or obligation appears to have given way to giving as a policy or liability. According to a review of case studies and CSR work done by Indian businesses, CSR in India is shifting away from charity and reliance and toward empowerment and partnership. The MCA's (Ministry of Corporate Affairs) CSR rules emphasize the role of an NGO as an implementation partner in corporate citizenship. Many organizations have made significant contributions to society with the help of the CSR funding that they have received. Given the change in the paradigm of thinking by companies, organizations working towards sustainable growth have been leading the change like SEEDS, acting on sustainable ecological growth in Asia. There are other organizations like Goonj working on improving the dignity of life in rural areas and Pratham working towards improving quality education through innovative teaching and learning methods. These types of organizations and many more have benefited heavily from the CSR funding they received and are promoting systemic change in society.


Indian NGO system has been going through the problem of chronic underfunding and this acts as huge decelerator in the activities of these organizations thereby hampering the results that can be achieved from the programs that are carried out and severely affect the growth of the sector by causing systemic deprivation. Research has proven that the hugely inadequate funds cannot serve the true costs of the sector as a whole, mainly contributing to the subscale performance entirely. In majority of the cases, the funders just write programme centric cheques which cannot cover the indirect costs incurred by the organisation which are very critical for expansion and administrative purposes. A huge number of organizations have reported struggle for accruing indirect cost funding and named survival with less than 3 months of reserves, they are also majorly suffering from a no operating surplus from the past three years at least while majority are from the underprivileged groups like the Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi communities etc. This is even more prevalent in the case of rural areas.

A three-scale process of foundational capabilities i.e., strong roots with strategic planning and development of hierarchical leadership; financial resilience i.e., through accumulation of unrestricted reserves; and increasing impact i.e., a need to measure the reach, impact and effects of their programs. A few recommendations like the creation of multiyear NGO-Donor relationships, measures to close the indirect funding gap through clear communication and engagement, investment in organizational development, and building of financial reserves need to be taken up seriously.

The contributions made to non-profits by international organizations has taken a serious hit following the implications of the FCRA amendments by over 30% and it is clear that a hole of that magnanimity cannot be filled anytime soon. The same trends can be observed in the case of donations by domestic corporations as well where the CSR is dropping by more than 5% given the pandemic-induced losses. The social sector spending in India has always been abysmal almost 5-6% of the GDP behind other BRICS countries. The ray of hope in this darkness is the case of family philanthropy which has not only stayed resilient through the pandemic but has also increased by almost 35% in size. The NGO sector needs to capitalize on this growth and induce a more people centric donation platforms. With the ever-growing wealth of family-owned businesses behind, who have an average net worth of 140 lakh crore, this is an opportunity waiting to be exploited.


During the Emergency in 1976, the FCRA was enacted in response to concerns that foreign powers were interfering in Indian affairs by pouring money into the country via non - profit institutions. These concerns were, in fact, much older, having been raised in Parliament as early as 1969. The law sought to regulate foreign donations to individuals and organizations in order for them to operate "in a manner consistent with the values of a sovereign democratic republic." Under the UPA government, an amended FCRA was enacted in 2010 to "consolidate the law" on the use of foreign funds and "prohibit" their use for "any activities detrimental to national interest.". The current government changed the law again in 2020, giving the state tight control and oversight over the receipt and use of offshore funds by nongovernmental organizations.

The Act was revised by receiving President's assent on September 29, 2020. These amendments place more personal accountability on NGOs in terms of forming partnerships, obtaining, and employing funds, especially from foreign entities. However, the government must monitor the situation of non-governmental organizations to prevent funds from being diverted to unlawful transactions. Sub- granting became illegal as a result of this. Subgranting occurs when a larger NGO transfers funds from international entities to smaller NGOs. Smaller non- governmental organizations (NGOs) cannot obtain funding from foreign donors. Life Education and Development Support (LEADS) in Jharkhand, for example, receives Rs. 8 lakhs per year from a Germany-based organization called "Bread for the World" to help strengthen the school system. LEADS manages this programme through four small non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Similarly, in Assam, an NGO called GVM receives funding from ActionAid and the National Foundation for India to work with Bhutanese Bodos. The administrative expenses cap had also been reduced from 50% to 20% of their foreign donations. The FCRA now, also makes it mandatory to obtain funds from the SBI branch in New India. The NGOs were required to submit an expense report every quarter. This amendment also prohibits Amnesty International and other civil society organizations from accepting foreign contributions to support other NGOs. The Ministry of Home has complete authority to revoke an NGO's FCRA certificate.

Many civil societies, notably during the reign of Covid, challenged these amendments. The country's development sector may suffer as a result of the ban on sub-grants. The flow of foreign funds could be hampered. Furthermore, environmentalism, human rights, and civil liberties would be severely harmed. The ideals of these critical pillars of India's soft power would clash with the amendments. As a result, the International Commission of Jurists stated that this new was contrary to international obligations as well as its own constitutional rights.


Over the years and across governments, there have been many proven cases of NGOs being used as a formal figurehead to misappropriation of funds, especially for foreign origin and conduction of illegal activities. There are a plethora of organizations carrying out subversive activities and are started and managed by people with shady backgrounds, it scary to see how easy it is to open an NGO by individuals of questionable character to say the least. The front of the NGO also puts out a positive image which now becomes a double- edged sword. Many organizations have been accounted for numerous malfeasances like the Popular Front of India charged for the instigation of the Delhi Riots of 2020 and Anti-CAA protests and accused of money laundering through terrorist organizations. This can be observed in the UPA tenure as well where, London based NGOs were apparently found to be the roots of Bishop Yvon Ambrose run organizations who instigated the campaign to stall the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project through foreign funding. There are many like these charged with FCRA violations because of causes of a wide range from diversion of funds to proselytism.

However, this has effected very well reputed and strong organizations like Amnesty International who have taken a staunch stance against government authoritarianism and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative with an Ex-Supreme Court Justice on their bench. In a country like India where despite its mammoth size, the state has not even come remotely close to reaching the far underdeveloped areas of the country, NGOs are a much-needed necessity. This was very clearly visible during the pandemic where these were the organizations who supported the travelling migrants on their devastating journeys home and scour for hospital beds and achieve plasma and oxygen when government hospitals were lacking them or no support for the last rites of the dead. A few bad steps don’t mean the leg needs to be cutoff, similarly this one-size-fits-all policy against the NGOs in the form of a witch hunt against NGOs and the FCRA amendments cannot and should not be the answer.


We have seen the various aspects of the delicate yet deep NGO system that has grown in our country for decades. Though not perfect, it is the only one that has survived the numerous and significant, glaringly hard problems that the society has thrown at it and continues to claim its effect in the various socio-economic, political, and civil changes that take place across every corner of the country. We have seen the strengths and weaknesses of the system that we now have and its more than obvious that it has pulled us off the cliff more times than we can count. It is now the time to support this network and rejuvenate it beyond its previous capacities and capabilities, give them a freer reign, increase investment and develop a tightknit, efficient and significant organizations which will ensure a safe and sustainable travel ahead in the developmental work of this country.

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