We strongly believe that Voluntary sector in India is the unrecognized fifth pillar of democracy, and we are consciously working for its recognition as such.
Democracy stands on four pillars; Justice, Equity, Freedom and Representation to all its citizens, and to ensure this, checks and balances were introduced by the conventional modern societies initiated by the British. We grew up in India reading that the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary were the three Pillars of our democracy. The Media became strong during the seventies emergency movement as a watch dog and Press assumed its role as the fourth pillar of Indian Democracy. They are in place to ensure the rights and freedoms of all people in Indian society. All the four pillars have set and assumed their roles as under; (i) Legislature is constituted by people’s representatives directly elected by the public to make laws keeping public welfare in mind; (ii) Executive is the cabinet based on the principle of joint responsibility. It implements a political party’s Policies and program and (iii) Judiciary ensures that Rule of Law prevails.
Implementation of the decisions by all above three wings is through Bureaucracy which ensures that the policies, programs and judicial orders are implemented through Public service approach. The Media represent public sentiments and opinion on the working of all the other three entities. It has assumed the role of ‘Fourth Pillar’ in our democracy. In ideal conditions this entity occupies a unique position of keeping the other three in check. The media let the public know what is going on and provides public opinion to the ‘Rulers’. A biased reporting may result in upsetting the balance.
Over the period of three decades since our independence the public has realized that the existing four pillars of ‘Democracy in India’ have not been able to deliver the promises made to people at large. The Legislature is based on caste and region based political party system wherein the elected representatives have electoral compulsions which deter the parliament to think and act collectively in the larger interest of the society and the country. The larger issues of the society like; land rights, forest rights, women representation, equitable development, corruption, etc are never pushed forward. The executive structure has become too heavy and corrupt that it gulps all the development funds on its own structural maintenance. Services are created more to protect the existing executive rather than to serve or develop. Even the sincere efforts do not reach at the grassroots level. The higher Judiciary has been providing a spark despite occasional allegations of ‘Judicial Activism’ but the lower judiciary is again inefficient, overloaded and allegedly corrupt. Media, the only watchdog enjoyed its celebrated status till the end of nineties and today it is as good as the India Incorporation. In the business world only the saleable is heard and the genuine concerns of majority among our down trodden society are never heard. The society at large feels alienated. Despite all claims by the successive governments the last man has never had his fill of promises, and the last man here stands for millions of deprived human beings who do not have any one to help support their claim.
This dim scenario opens the gates for another front which not only acts as a watchdog but also provides constructive support to the executive to reach the last man. The voluntary sector is also known as the Non-government sector or the civil society or the community sector, due to its direct outreach to community at large. The presence of a large non-profit sector is rightly seen as an indicator of a healthy economy in local and national financial measurements across the developed nations. With a growing number of non-profit organizations focused on social services, the livelihoods, environment, education and wellbeing of the society, the non-profit sector is increasingly becoming central to the health and well-being of society. It is rightly stated by the economists that the non-profit sector provides an excellent outlet for a variety of society's labour and skills. In the United States, approximately 10% of GDP is attributable to this sector. In India, however, the established pillars do not consciously pave way for the non-government sector to prosper.
What we advocate is the voluntary not for profit sector. Often the governments (State as well Centre) in India are susceptive of role and contribution of this sector. We need to make it very clear. Other than the government, all initiatives can be/ are termed as voluntary or non-government. Broadly the NGOs are termed as charitable organisations, social service organisations, developmental organisations and activist organisations. Each kind of organisation has its own objectives and the strategies to achieve these objectives. Most of the social service/ developmental organisations have grassroots presence and are widely accepted as an arm of the government extension machinery. The activist organisations have started playing the role of watch dogs to keep the bureaucracy on its toes. The advantage of the non-government sector is its wide reach and acceptability to the marginalised communities; the small & marginal farmers, land less, deprived women, scheduled castes & scheduled tribes, dalits, etc. The NGOs can act as an implementer, facilitator, trainer, researcher, advocates of rights, etc. As on today the country can boast of presence of NGOs almost in every corner of Nation. But unfortunately this is the most unorganised sector without any entry restriction. It is a standard practice for the politicians and bureaucrats to register voluntary organisations with vested interests. Another reason for mushrooming of voluntary organisations is the large scale unemployment status of the country youth. If, addressed properly this sector has a potential to provide large scale employment to both rural and urban youth.
The Centre for Advanced Research & Development (CARD) identifies itself as a development NGO working primarily on livelihoods issues in rural sector. CARD acts as a facilitator of development process along with capacity building approach. It also acts as a research organisation and occasionally advocates rights. CARD believes in mainstream development and acknowledges the role of government in the overall development and welfare. It understands the systematic limitations of the government and works as facilitator of development process. We have specialized in improving the existing delivery mechanism of the government by providing participatory soft skills. We believe in complementing the mainstream development process rather than competing with it so as to have a larger impact. The sustainability of this approach largely depends on the empowerment of the communities for participating at all levels and by demanding their entitlements, and at the same time by advocating that the government functionaries accept the change. This can only be achieved by bringing in attitudinal change, disseminating knowledge and by imbibing participatory skills amongst various development stakeholders. This is where an interface is required and NGOs can act as the interface.
We strongly advocate that the governments, both central and the states must recognise the role of non-government organisations in all spheres of development and creates policy environment to encourage voluntarism.