Future of India’s Civil Society Organisations


    In Context

    • Civil society organisations (CSO) in India are facing various issues & challenges in recent days.

    About the Civil Society Organizations in India

    • About:
      • India has a long history of civil society based on the concepts of daana (giving) and seva (service). 
      • Civil society organization (CSO) or non-governmental organization (NGO) are organizations that are voluntary in spirit and without profit-making objectives—have been active in the cultural promotion, education, health, and natural disaster relief. 
    • Data on NGOs:
      • Today, about 1.5 million NGOs work in India (i.e., nonprofit, voluntary citizens’ groups organized on a local, national, or international level). 
        • According to a survey conducted by Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)
          • 26.5% of NGOs are engaged in religious activities
          • while 21.3% work in the area of community and/or social service
          • About one in five NGOs works in education
          • while 17.9% are active in the fields of sports and culture
          • Only 6.6% work in the health sector.

    Changing Regulations for CSOs

    • FCRA regulations for Civil Society Organizations in India:
      • Tighter control:
        • The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act was amended by the current government in 2020, giving the government tighter control and scrutiny over the receipt and utilisation of foreign funds by NGOs. 
      • Designated FCRA account: 
        • All NGOs seeking foreign donations have to open a designated FCRA account at the SBI branch.
        • The NGOs can retain their existing FCRA account in any other bank but it will have to be mandatorily linked to the SBI branch in New Delhi.
      • Only banking channels allowed: 
        • Foreign contribution has to be received only through banking channels and it has to be accounted for in the manner prescribed.
      • OCI or PIO: 
        • Donations given in Indian rupees by any foreign source including foreigners of Indian origin like OCI or PIO cardholders” should also be treated as foreign contributions.
      • Sovereignty and integrity: 
        • It requires NGOs to give an undertaking that the acceptance of foreign funds is not likely to prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India or impact friendly relations with any foreign state and does not disrupt communal harmony.
    • No depiction of vulnerable children:
      • Recently, the government has warned CSOs against using representative visuals for fundraising activities concerning development issues such as malnutrition. 
      • The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a directive to non-profits not to depict vulnerable children. 
      • So, every new directive is a new challenge for civil society.

    Issues of the move

    • Shrinking voice of CSOs:
      • It is widely claimed that the ability of civil society to shape policy and public discourse has shrunk drastically. Because civil society is seen to be the new frontier for war and foreign interference
    • Financial crunch:
      • Because of the financial and structural constraints imposed on them, CSOs/movements are lacking conscientious youngsters, who naturally need some financial sustenance. 
      • Thousands working in the social sector, particularly in grassroots organisations, have already been rendered jobless as the ban on sub-granting has caused resource starvation for these organisations.
    • No possibility of tangible contribution:
      • Without sustained support, CSOs cannot positively mould public discourse or make a tangible impact on the nation at large. 
      • With governments consciously avoiding CSOs/movements, their ability to shape policy is diminished (which adversely impacts organisational morale).
    • The net result:
      • Faced with a drastically reduced spectrum of options, some progressives will migrate to safer avenues; others may limit the scope of their work
      • The net result is that civil society will be unable to speak truth to power, amplify the voices of the most vulnerable, enrich policies/legislation through constructive feedback, or further the collective good. 


    • For government:
      • The governments should also realise that some of its prominent acts or laws, such as the Right to Information Act, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the National Food Security Act, among others, will remain relevant if the foundations of civil society are strong.
        • Any attempt to disturb civil society will be tantamount to diluting these laws
      • Any stringent measures would also adversely impact the monitoring of the implementation of various government schemes, such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, etc.
    • For NGOs:
      • Alternate ways of funding:
        • Post new FCRA laws, many organisations have already started looking up to local resource mobilisation (LRM) and are largely focused on corporate funding through corporate social responsibility (CSR).
      • Charitable funding:
        • Civil society should explore how to encourage more collective giving, a form of charitable giving where groups pool their donations to create larger funds to tackle problems.
      • Utilizing technology:
        • There is increasing awareness that increased use of data and digital technology can make charities stronger and even better at what they do. 
    • For young activists:
      • The one possibility that could emerge is that young activists could be inducted into political parties, either within the party organisation or in an aligned body. 
      • This could create an institutionalised moral force within the parties (which could balance electoral compulsions with ethical/human rights considerations). 
        • This would afford parties a layered systemic approach to thorny issues.

    Way ahead

    • CSOs often face misconceptions about their role in society. They are the targets of political interference and manipulation, which can limit their ability to operate.
    • But inaction today will directly contribute to the extinction of civil society, arguably the fifth pillar of Indian democracy.


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Civil society organisations (CSO) in India are facing various issues & challenges in recent days. Analyse. What is its impact on policy-making? Suggest ways for CSOs to effectively deal with these challenges.