I am republishing an old article “ which was circulated in Karmayog yahoo group and green youth Google group mailing list . This is in no way to defame or undermine any environmental activist and the work they do, but at the same time to let a few powerful (probably “Padmashree” winner) environmentalist protect us would be a big mistake we as “empowered citizens” can do.- Manoj Nayak

The NGO mafia – it’s contribution to environmental degradation

Mon Aug 22, 2005

sent by Sumaira Abdulali sumairaabdulali@…

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:

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

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:

  1. MMR Environment Society/Heritage Society:
    1. 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).
    2. SOCLEEN (of which Debi Goenka is a Managing Committee (MC) member)
    3. BNHS (of which Debi Goenka is MC Member)
    4. Cyrus Guzder (MC member of Beag)
    5. 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:

  1. Study of mangroves in Mumbai conducted by Jai Hind College (Beag has a pending writ in the High Court regarding mangroves)
  2. 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 project).
  3. Mapping of mangroves jointly with IIT ( Beag has a pending writ on mangroves in the High Court and the Court has ordered mapping of mangroves).
  4. Environmental management plan for Sanjay Gandhi National Park (Beag has undertaken this very controversial campaign through the High Court)

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



[1. the language does seem to smack of some personal grudges.

  2. the title seems to indicate that there is collusion and control by a large number of mafias — this painting the ngo sector black even by just a title seems to be in poor taste – because the article only talks of one NGO.

  3. As a layperson and as someone who has never interacted with BEAG, I do think that certain results would just not have come about were it not for BEAG's initiative e.g. in Mahabaleshwar.

  4. BEAG has replied in today's Times of India i.e. on 22 Aug .(tried to Google this, but couldn't find)

5. Please email the full contacts and list of members of MMR EIS and MMR HIS .

  6. It would be interesting to see what "small environmentalists and activists" in the group have to say.

Anyway, if there are articles that are highly edited in the press or simply killed, do circulate them through Karmayog.

  Vinay ]