Ever since an NGO mutated into a political part, the acronym NGO, which had always make people look at you with suspicion and distrust, has come under the scanner of one and all. A recent Intelligence Bureau Report
accused foreign funded NGOs of stalling development and now the 2014 Finance Bill
has given sweeping powers to the Income Tax authorities to withdraw tax benefits of NGOs and even cancel their registration: in another word- kill them.
A slew of reasons that could lead to cancellation have been stipulated but on a somewhat vague manner open to all kind of interpretation and thus misuse. One the stipulations is if: its “income does not enure for the benefit of general public
”. Not being familiar with legal jargon I had to look up 'enure' and the definition is: to be applied (to the use or benefit of a person).
So what it means is that the income of an NGO should be applied for the benefit of the general public.
Now benefit of the general public
can mean just about anything and can be easily misused to get back at someone. Or simply can be used by an official to cancel your registration should you have, let us say, crossed swords with her/him. The other stipulation that is dangerously open ended is: its funds are invested in prohibited modes
. Without proper definition of what is prohibited modes, once again you have a Damocles sword hanging on your head, prohibited modes could mean just anything.
Ours is a tiny organisation but comes within the present purview as we get most of our funding from donors outside India. That these donors are simple individuals and can donate as little as $10, will not cut ice with authorities that have a huge grudge against NGOs. And how can I explain that in spite of my best efforts I have been unable to create an indigenous donor base though my first instinct was to launch a rupee-a-day campaign. This failed miserably. I do not know why but maybe it is time to dust the files of the mind and look at this option once again.
How do I explain to tax authorities that I do not have the skills that allow me access to the rich and famous; that I do not have a celebrity who would lend her/his smile to our cause; that I am not a will never be a page 3 gal!
How do I explain to tax authorities that I set up this project because I felt that I owed a debt for all the privileges I have enjoyed and for no other motive. I am just paying back!
How do I explain to the tax authorities that I am ashamed and guilt-ridden each time I see, hear or come to know of the innumerable aberrations that exist in our land after 66 years of Independence - be it children dying of malnutrition while the rich gorge themselves and their dustbins; a baby being raped; a young girl raped by order of a kangaroo court; or children being abused -. Each time I hear of anything of the kind I feel I have let my mother and all those who fought for our freedom down. And that is why I try to do what I can to regain the lost trust before judgement day which is approaching faster than I can imagine
Now I will have to walk on egg shells wondering whether my every action does enure the for the benefit of the general public. Why should teaching slum children not be so, or helping women, or sponsoring a heart surgery?
We have no money to invest; we barely have enough to keep our heads out of water. So investing in any mode, prohibited or not does not arise. Yet suddenly the feel good factor that had always been there seems to have been abducted. Uncertainty prevails are we have become at the mercy of people who have never experienced the joy of reaching out to another or the privilege of becoming the custodian of simple dreams.