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India has an NGO for every 400 people

According to the first governmental survey of the voluntary sector, India is teeming with non-government organisations -- at 3.3 million, possibly the most in the world. They are registered under a cluster of different Acts and include a range of diverse motives and mandates

A recent study commissioned by the Government of India reveals that India possibly has the largest number of active non-government, not-for-profit voluntary organisations in the world. The number of such entities, accounted for till 2009, stood at 3.3 million, which is one NGO for less than 400 Indians, and many times the number of primary schools and primary health centres in India. 

According to the survey, the largest number of NGOs are registered in Maharashtra (4.8 lakh), followed by Andhra Pradesh (4.6 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (4.3 lakh), Kerala (3.3 lakh), Karnataka (1.9 lakh), Gujarat (1.7 lakh), West Bengal (1.7 lakh), Tamil Nadu (1.4 lakh), Orissa (1.3 lakh) and Rajasthan (1 lakh). Over 80% of registrations come from these 10 states. 

Even these staggering numbers may be less than the actual number of NGOs active in all states and union territories of the country. That’s because the study, commissioned in 2008, took into consideration only those entities which were registered under the Societies Registration Act or the Mumbai Public Trust Act and its variants in other states. 

Such organisations can be registered under a plethora of Acts such as the Societies’ Act, 1860, Indian Trust Act, 1882, Public Trust Act, 1950, Indian Companies Act, 1956 (Section 25), Religious Endowment Act, 1863, The Charitable and Religious Trust Act, 1920, the Mussalman Wakf Act, 1923, the Wakf Act, 1954, and Public Wakfs (Extension of Limitation Act) Act, 1959, etc. 

“These are all broad estimates. Nobody really knows the ground reality because this sector has grown very fast in the past many years. Besides, there have been no efforts to maintain an official database or even to encourage such entities to be transparent about their activities as well as funding,” says Soumitro Ghosh, Founder CEO, CSO Partners, a Chennai-based organisation set up to encourage transparency in the functioning of the sector.  

While the government will begin studying the finances of the sector in the second phase of the survey, estimates from within the sector suggest that NGOs, or NPIs, raise anywhere between Rs 40,000 crore and Rs 80,000 crore in funding annually. 

The government is the biggest donor -- Rs 18,000 crore was set aside for the social sector in the Eleventh Plan -- followed by foreign contributors (according to the latest figures available, around Rs 9,700 crore was raised in 2007-08). Around Rs 1,600-2,000 crore was donated to established religious bodies such as the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. 

Individual donors are emerging as the biggest and most lucrative source of funds. According to an internal study by a leading foreign NGO headquartered in the UK, donations by individuals are expected to have grown from around Rs 2,200 crore in 2005 to Rs 8,100 crore by a conservative estimate, and to around Rs 21,000 crore by more liberal estimates. 

The increase in the number of donors coincides with a sharp increase in the number of new NGOs in the past decade. According to the government study, there were only 1.44 lakh registered societies till 1970. In the following three decades, the number rose to 1.79 lakh, 5.52 lakh, and 11.22 lakh. The maximum increase in the number of registrations happened after 2000. 

Private sector companies, one of the biggest donors in the developed world, are, however, yet to wake up to the phenomenon of charity and philanthropy in India. Indian companies spend less than 1% of their annual profits on such activities, against 1.5% to over 2% spent by their UK- and US-based counterparts, says the study by CSO Partners. 

The international NGO is of the opinion that since government is the biggest donor to many NGOs, transparency and disclosure norms are especially important. As Vice-President Hamid Ansari recently stressed, many NGOs now work with unprecedented levels of public funding because of their role in implementing giant centrally-sponsored welfare schemes, but are not audited by the CAG.  

Source: The Indian Express, July 8, 7, 2010
            The Hindustan Times, July 7, 2010
            Press Trust of India, July 7, 2010