The participation diluted it
by Yogesh Snehi

Voluntary Organisations and Social Welfare
by Raj Kumar Siwach. Shankar Publications, Delhi. Pages 212. Rs 495.

It is argued, "the government has limitations in reaching out to all the segments of society and take up every development-related issue. Voluntary organisations (VOs) thus come into existence to fill this gap." It is also argued, comparing with the "top-down approach" of the State, that VOs are significant because of their "grass-root approach", their flexibility and efficiency in operations. The author follows similar arguments regarding VOs and their role in social welfare.

In the wake of flooding of VOs and transfer of enormous funds, both from the State institutions and the foreign donor agencies, it has become essential to look into these "voluntary looking professional organisations", which have become prime factors in development and are subject to ‘"donor agenda". The book is a microanalysis of VOs and their beneficiaries in four districts of Haryana. It is an attempt to evaluate the contribution of VOs in social welfare.

Since Independence, there had been a consistent effort on the part of successive governments to co-opt grass-root initiatives. Independence had catalysed the efforts of the State towards nation-building. The government sought the participation of voluntary organisations. Thus, in 1953, the Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) was formed.

The participation was specifically sought in the implementation of programmes in rural development. In 1986, the Council for Advancement of People’s Action in Rural Technology come into existence and with this large-scale transfer of funds to VOs started. This "joint venture" between the State and VOs benefited voluntarism, but contrary to this, the participation diluted it.

The definition and nature of VOs has been subject to numerous debates. It became more complex since foreign donors started pumping huge funds in this sector. This new sector is now popularly called the Non-Government Organisation (NGO) sector.

The writer has drawn a distinction between VOs and NGOs. Although one cannot deny some difference as far as the source of funds and functions are concerned, yet there is hardly any distinction between the approach of VOs and NGOs towards social welfare. Beneficiaries continue to be an "object of social welfare".

The second chapter focuses on the organisational structure of VOs. Registered VOs are governed by appropriate Acts that delineate the aims, objectives, the composition of membership and other managerial bodies. There is hardly an air of voluntarism in these Acts.

The work of these organisations can appropriately be termed as "professional voluntarism". Besides, one can hardly deny that VOs have become the largest job creator.

The author has interestingly assumed that VOs are supposed to implement the social welfare schemes of the government. He draws justification from Articles 38, 39, 42 and 47 of the Constitution. Unfortunately, these Articles envisage the role of the State towards the welfare of its citizens and not cooperation with VOs. The role of VOs in social welfare in Haryana is good, contrary to what the studies conducted by the CSWB suggest. This is despite that 57 per cent of the volunteers had no formal training at all. A critical analysis of the work raises many questions about its premises.