dear all
here with forwarding an article by sumaira abdulali -a green rights
crusader of mumbai
The NGO mafia – it's contribution to environmental degradation 

We have all seen the power of the common man in helping his fellow
human beings in distress during the recent floods in Bombay. It is
obvious that it is only through empowering and educating him that
lasting and necessary results can be achieved in civic and
environmental campaigns.

What have we done to achieve such empowerment over the years? 

What has been the role of our NGOs and the handful of
environmentalists who are now screaming themselves hoarse that
Government has failed to protect environment and caused the suffering
to the common man experienced during the floods by it's acts of
omission and commission? We need to re think their role seriously.

It can no longer be seriously thought that common people lack interest
in preserving and bettering their environment and situation. The noise
campaign is a case in point: even without any calamity of the
magnitude of the recent floods, the response to further the noise
campaign was overwhelming. The Police and Government responded very
favourably and have by and large done a creditable job of containing
noise levels in the face of powerful and engrained vested interests,
due to the weight of public demand for action.

Such action is needed in every street and corner of Bombay for other
types of environmental issues. Citizens alone can demand action and
take steps to ensure that they get results. Re-doing the entire
drainage system of Bombay is a massive exercise to be undertaken by
the Government, while keeping the existing drains clean can only be
ensured by local participation. We need both. There is no either/or.

NGOs play an important role in promoting an educated public opinion
and an educated Government policy. They also play a role in
stimulating active involvement and participation to promote civic and
environmental issues. There is a role for NGOs and activists at all
levels to make this effective and viable. We enjoy an elected
democracy where we elect our own representatives and would be able to
ensure effective environmental and civic Policy when sufficient public
involvement is generated.

Instead of empowering and educating those who could have contributed
to more effective environmental campaigns, we have NGOs and privileged
environmentalists who have controlled and deliberately blocked these
unorganized 'small scale' efforts. Government funding, Government
policy through Court interventions and public opinion through the
Press and media are controlled by a select few.

They have been members of numerous Government Committees to decide
public policy and to support environmental initiatives for example:

The MMR EIS ( Mumbai Metropolitan Region Environmental Improvement
Society) and MMR HIS (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Improvement
Society) which jointly control a corpus of about Rs 10 crores of
Government funds expressly given for the purpose of empowering
environmentalists in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region has multiple
representation from the Bombay Environmental Action Group (Beag). As
many as 5 individual members/NGOs who are members of the MMR EIS/HIS
have members on their Managing Committees who are also members of the
Managing Committee and/or employees of Beag. The multiple
representation effectively hands over control of the funds in question
to a single NGO for distribution as they see fit.

The imbalance was drawn to the attention of MMRDA, who acknowledged it
and stated that they were unaware of it until now, but would take
corrective action.

The Committees have never been re constituted since their inception.
There is a need to re constitute. There is also a need to advertise
fund availability to grass root level NGOs working on varied subjects
with a view to empower them, since funds have been distributed mainly
to certain types of projects in the past. Many of these are projects
allied in some way to campaigns taken up by the Beag through PILs and
help to further the particular thrust and substance of the campaigns.

The following major projects have been funded by the MMR EIS:

   2. Study of mangroves in Mumbai conducted by Jai Hind College (Beag
has a pending writ in the High Court regarding mangroves)
   3. Cleaning of a Lake in Thane microbiologically and Virar's Powai
Lake. (Individual members of Beag are represented on Committees
executing both these projects).
   4. Mapping of mangroves jointly with IIT ( Beag has a pending writ
on mangroves in the High Court containing a prayer for mapping of
      Environmental management plan for Sanjay Gandhi National Park
(Beag has undertaken this controversial campaign through the High


These same individuals are also represented in enough numbers to
control the decision making of all Committees controlling subjects of
their interest which are interchangeably used to support each other.
These include the Heritage Committee of the MCGM, the Monitoring
Committee of Mahableshwar-Panchgani (on which Beag is represented by 2
Committee Members) the Monitoring Committee of Matheran (on which Beag
is represented by 2 Committee members and an NGO which has 3 of Beag's
Committee members as decision makers) and numerous other Committees
which are controlled in a similar manner by a handful of persons.

PILs have been used and mis-used to achieve the ends of influencing
public policy and of favouring friends, associates and donors. It is
not uncommon for PILs to be dismissed after an initial fanfare in the
Press due to non-appearance of the Petitioners. Many of these are CRZ
related PILs filed against individual constructions. Individual
violations of CRZ regulations have in fact been encouraged by some of
our leading environmentalists and environmental groups who have
ensured that it is no one's interest to actively protect sensitive
mangroves while projecting the exact opposite in public forums.

It is also not uncommon for PILs which in some way support other NGOs
and ensure that select projects are given a leading edge in major
areas to be filed. The real motive is not always visible up front as
cross membership of selected NGOs skillfully ensure camoflauge. There
may be some genuine public interest but there is usually a private
agenda also.

The only way to check this mis use would be by making a demand for an
audit of all the PILs filed by our leading NGOs and the outcome of
each. Perhaps the Government would care to do this so that it knows
who really controls it's policies and decisions in certain important
areas of public policy behind the scenes?

This may not be as easy as it seems, since information about the
decision makers and private affiliations are carefully kept behind
wraps. Independent opinion on the subjects to which they believe they
have a proprietary right are deliberately and ruthlessly crushed and
lack of dissent ensured by blocking Government funds to small
environmentalists and activists.

What is also par for the course is to ridicule and humiliate
dissenting voices and to silence them effectively through their
superior access to the legal fraternity, access to funds and
authorities in power. The decisions are often based on emotion rather
than on the weight of scientific knowledge.

The weightage to be given to various environmental and heritage
subjects and compromises to be made to promote certain ideologies at
the cost of others are also decided behind closed doors (even
including reversing Government and expert decisions) These are
implemented by a combination of the means listed above. It is easy to
over rule almost any one who is not organized against this. At the
same time, responsibility in the implementation of the Court Orders
can always be passed on to the Government when convenient, as lack of
manpower and administrative ability can be easily pleaded.

I have had personal knowledge and experience of all of this. Can those
who have been trying for years unsuccessfully to break this
monopolistic 'mafia' of NGOs sit back now and silently watch the
culprits shrug off responsibility while blaming Government? Can this
mafia who have enjoyed such a complete stranglehold on the subject of
environment in Bombay now absolve itself of responsibility and claim
that the Government alone was at fault?

If we subscribe to this theory, then we have learnt nothing from the
calamity we have faced and we will not see any change or improvement
in future beyond the setting up of more Committees which the same
mafia will control with no concrete result.

Perhaps nothing could have prevented flooding during the torrent that
Bombay received. It has been observed that there was a systemic
failure that contributed to the human crises and tragedies that we all
observed. It was these same crises which also brought to the fore the
resilience and ability of the common man in Bombay, when he is
empowered to contribute his little bit. By actively blocking this
force, and promoting monopolies we have shot ourselves in the leg. The
common man feels helpless and shrugs and gives up.

Let us cure our maladies from the grass roots up. Let us look again
into our systems. With the mantle of decision-making, is vested
responsibility and public accountability. Let us demand accountability
from those NGOs who, though not our elected representatives, have
taken the role of governance on themselves. Let us ensure that small
projects and local initiatives are given the respect they deserve. By
building a partnership and friendship with those who ultimately have
to gain from preserving our environment, we ensure lasting results.


Sumaira Abdulali

5th August 2005 



Control of Government funds for environment and heritage by a single NGO 

The MMR EIS ( Mumbai Metropolitan Region Environmental Improvement
Society) and MMR HIS (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Improvement
Society) which between them control a corpus of about Rs 10 crores of
Government funds has multiple representation on it's Committee from
the Bombay Environmental Action Group as follows:

      MMR Environment Society/Heritage Society: 


         2. Shyam Chainani, Hon Secretary of Beag (Debi Goenka, an
employee of Beag has attended these meetings on Beag's behalf for the
past several years).
         3. SOCLEEN (of which Debi Goenka is a Managing Committee (MC) member)
         4. BNHS (of which Debi Goenka is MC Member)
         5. Cyrus Guzder (MC member of Beag)
            INTACH (of which Cyrus Guzder, Debi Goenka and Shyam
Chainani are MC members)


An analysis of the projects financed by EIS over the last few years
and the fact that the MMR EIS is 'unable to find' projects to fund
according to their official Directors speaks for itself:


   6. Study of mangroves in Mumbai conducted by Jai Hind College (Beag
has a pending writ in the High Court regarding mangroves)
   7. Cleaning of a Lake in Thane microbiologically and Virar's Powai
Lake. (Beag's activist, Debi Goenka is involved with the Powai Lake
clean up project and Beag's MC Member Gautam Patel with the Thane Lake
   8. Mapping of mangroves jointly with IIT ( Beag has a pending writ
on mangroves in the High Court and the Court has ordered mapping of
      Environmental management plan for Sanjay Gandhi National Park
(Beag has undertaken this very controversial campaign through the High


      I believe that grass roots level NGOs and ALMs should be
vigorously encouraged to take up environmental issues. When these
local NGOs take up issues such as the banning of plastic bags or the
protection of mangroves at their own levels, we have at last a chance
of seeing results on the ground.

      The only way to encourage and ensure this type of grass root
level activism is by providing local NGOs and ALMs with information
and with funding. This should be the first priority in utilizing the
funds provided by Government for environmental and heritage
protection. This is the only way to guarantee long-term protection of
the environment.

Sumaira Abdulali  

"If we fight, we may not always win, but if we don't fight, we will
surely lose."

 subeditor,MADHYAMAM daily,
 pooppalam, perinthalmanna,kerala,

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