We, the Government
By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER
The first word is not National but Notional. By replacing the “a” in the first word, by an “o”, we have tried to capture the essence of this column. It grew out of a Close Encounter with two intruders who claimed to represent an NGO based in Mussoorie. We had, earlier, written appreciatively about this organisation because it seemed to be doing a good job in disposing of the waste produced by many of our hotels. We shall not, however, mention the name of that NGO because neither of the individuals who visited us showed any proof of their identity. They seemed to be under the false notion that they were invincible officials! They entered our grounds, unannounced and uninvited, were seen walking around without asking our permission to do so, and then proclaimed that their NGO would collect our household garbage starting from the next day and that the City Board’s sanitation workers would no longer do so! This is the sort of high-handed arbitrary behaviour that gets our hackles rising. It is, also, exactly the sort of insidious erosion of our rights that We, the Government must resist. As the registered tax payers and the owners of our own small cottage in the oak woods of Mussoorie, we pay a Conservancy Tax to the Board. This tax has been used by our City Board to keep our town clean. With increasing pressure from a growing population, and the burgeoning of hotels and restaurants, our Municipality accepted the help of a local NGO to handle the additional waste generated and it seemed to be working well. Organisations, however, are like living organisms: they have an urge to survive and expand well beyond their usefulness. This has happened to many NGOs in our nation. According to information available in the public domain, we, in India, have around 3.2 million registered NGOs. That is more than the number of hospital beds. There are 4 NGOs for every 1,000 people in urban areas and 2.3 NGOs for every 1,000 of our rural population. You can create an NGO and then assign your self a role in it specifying your own salary. In fact, though NGOs bask in the image of being non-profit organisations, they are just like companies. On an average, a lowly social worker employed by an NGO clears about Rs 5,000 at the start of his or her career. NGOs justify their existence by claiming that they take up the responsibilities that ought, rightfully, to be handled by the government. So must we believe that successive Central, State and Local governments have been so inefficient that they needed the crutch of 3,200,000 NGOs to keep their voters happy? And if each NGO has a minimum of 20 officials and workers (which is a very conservative estimate) there are, at the very least, 64 million people in India engaged in NGO activities! Is it any wonder, then, that this powerful behemoth strives to grow by usurping more and still more of our state’s responsibilities? Naturally, our netas and our babus will be only too happy to shrug off their obligations, save money which can be ‘recycled’, and then get citizens to pay NGOs for such services! Let’s get this quite clear. No state authority can force any citizen to use the services of any NGO and compel that citizen to pay for such services. If any individual wishes to use those services, voluntarily, then it is that person’s responsibility to accept the terms and conditions for such facilities. If any state organisation wishes to enter into an agreement with an NGO to use the NGO’s services, then payments for such services are that state’s responsibility. Incidentally, in our cottage we convert fallen leaves and garden waste into compost. We run a paperless office. Thanks to our Kabariwallas, unwanted items are recycled. Our total daily domestic detritus fills one paper bag and goes into the Municipal dust bin. We don’t need an NGO to do that! Finally, if those two individuals were who they claimed to be, then they should be re-trained to be more civil. Since subordinates often reflect the attitudes of their bosses, a notional change would be a good survival strategy!