Monday, November 08, 2004

Meira Kumar for reservations in voluntary sector

Affirmative action must begin with NGOs

Minister for social justice and empowerment Meira Kumar is right in tweaking the ears of non-government organisations (NGOs) to implement reservations. Far from being altruistic, NGOs use public money without being accountable for their actions. In contrast, a public limited company and the much-reviled political class are directly answerable to the people.

There is no reason why NGOs should use public money without being obliged to promote public policy. Most NGOs are no more than fronts for well-connected individuals to siphon away public funds. They merely patronise the right babus in the right places to get their 'proposals' cleared. As for 'causes', there are a dime a dozen — education, tribal uplift, decentralisation, anti-globalisation, traditional medicine, human rights, gender, minorities, advocacy, environment — depending on what is in vogue. Nepal is full of NGOs which have precious little to show for the money they receive. Their counterparts are scattered all across backward states such as Rajas-than and Jharkhand.

Finally, it is the political process, and not NGOs, that propels social change. The latter, in view of their indifferent record, should not complain of heavy-handedness if the state urges them to fulfil a constitutionally ordained goal.

NGOs claim to engage in the uplift of the downtrodden. So, they should be the first to employ the backwards and Dalits. The efficiency argument against quotas can be turned on its head in the context of NGOs: With a complement of backwards, NGOs will achieve better results on the ground. City-bred, liberal Brahmins are less likely to cut ice with the people on grassroots issues. Efficiency as an income or profit maximising principle is irrelevant to the NGO world, which operates along different, often intangible, objectives, not validated by the market. Therefore, the arguments of anti-reservationists cannot be transplanted in the NGO sector.

Source: The Indian Express, November 8, 2004

NGOs ought to implement affirmative action, but it doesn't make sense to enforce an artificial ordering as in saying affirmative action must BEGIN with NGOs.


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