The Centre has, in one fell swoop, revoked the permission to 20,000 NGOs to receive foreign contribution by cancelling their licences under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). One report says that there are 33,000 NGOs working in the country in different fields. But the number is rather confusing because last year the CBI came out with a report that the number of NGOs operating in the States and Union Territories was 31 lakh. The NGOs started getting targeted during the UPA regime which alleged that some of the foreign-funded NGOs were working against ‘national interest’ by opposing development programmes like setting up nuclear power plants.
‘Development` has no universally accepted definition. For example, the Gandhian paradigm of development is diametrically opposite to the development followed by all the governments in post-independence India. As far as opposition to building nuclear power plants is concerned, it is not confined to India alone. There are many countries which have consciously veered away from nuclear power generation. Some countries have not set up a single nuclear power plant for several decades now. The disposal of the radioactive nuclear waste (spent fuel) from the reactors is a big problem for this waste remains highly radioactive for thousands of years. Those who are against nuclear power plants have solid scientific evidence about the dangers ingrained in nuclear power generation.
There may be other ‘development’ programmes like building big dams which also may be opposed on cogent grounds. Medha Patekar’s ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ is such a movement. Bodies which oppose development schemes that they perceive to be destructive of ecology and environment are banded together in the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM). Evicting adivasis from their ancestral lands for extraction of minerals lying buried in their land may be considered very necessary for development by some. Others may be totally opposed to such a concept of development. That does not necessarily make them anti-national. In a democratic country there should be a free and open public debate at all levels about the type of development suited for our country.
‘National interest’ – except in the case of national defence against foreign aggression – has no universal definition. National interest is what the ruling party at the Centre at a given point of time thinks it is. If any NGO is found to be engaged in activities that are criminal, it can be proceeded against under the Indian Penal Code or other relevant laws. The wholesale targeting of NGOs is uncalled for because the majority of them are rendering service to the people in different ways.