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The right of all citizens to form associations or unions is guaranteed by the Constitution of India, Article 19(1) (c). Charitable organizations usually take the legal form of a trust, society, or non-profit company (also called not-for-profit organizations or NGOs), and are regulated by a variety of state and central government agencies, laws and authorities. Unsurprisingly for such a large and diverse country there is also a wide diversity of charitable organizations within India. However, while the sector is undoubtedly large, there remains a lack of reliable data about its size and scope.
The Legal Framework
There are a variety of federal and state laws which are applicable to charitable organizations and NGOs operating in India. These include:
Indian Trusts Act of 1882: this Act applies only to private trusts throughout India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Bombay Public Trusts Act 1950: this legislation deals with charitable trusts in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Charitable and Religious Trusts Act 1920: this law extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Central Government can extend its coverage to Jammu and Kashmir by notification in the Official Gazette,
Many states also have their own Public Trusts Acts, for further information, please visit the following website: www.indianngos.com
Societies Registration Act 1860: this is a federal Act and is applicable generally to all states. However some regions had already enacted their own laws, others have made amendments or modifications to the Act, and other states have passed completely new laws to regulate societies leading to considerable variation across states.
Companies Act 1956: section 25 of the Companies Act 1956 deals with non-profit companies. This Act is a federal Act and applies to non-profit companies operating in any state.
The Income Tax Act 1961 is a federal Act which applies in all states, and governs tax exemption of not-for-profit organizations operating in India.
Funds received from overseas are governed by the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 1976.
The Registrar of Societies has regulatory responsibility for societies. A society can either register at the state level with the Registrar of Societies or at the District level with the District Magistrate or the local office of the Registrar of Societies.
The Registrar of Companies is the regulatory authority for Section 25 companies.
Charitable trusts registered under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, applicable in Gujarat and Maharashtra, are regulated by the Charity Commissioner in those states.
Benefits of registration:
Non-profit organizations may be eligible for tax exemption under the Income Tax Act 1961.
This stipulates that a not-for-profit organization must:
• be organized for religious or charitable purposes;
• spend 85% of its income on the objects of the organization; and
• use all funds for the public benefit.
Charitable purposes include "relief of the poor, education, medical relief, and the advancement of any other object of general public utility."
NGOs involved in relief work and in the distribution of relief supplies to the needy are 100% exempt from Indian customs duty on the import of items such as food, medicine, clothing and blankets.
The Societies Registration Act 1860 provides that each society has to submit an annual report and list details of its managing body every year to its local Registrar of Societies. The requirement to file accounts differs between states. For further information on the reporting requirements in different states, please see the following website: www.indianngos.com
All trusts registered under the Bombay Public Trusts Act have to file annual reports. In addition, trusts with an income above Rs 1500 per annum have to submit audited accounts, and those with an annual income below Rs 1500 have to submit income and expenditure statements within 6 months of closing of accounts to the Charity Commissioner’s office.
All section 25 companies have to file:
• audited accounts;
• an annual report;
• an annual return with the Registrar of Companies; and
• important resolutions.
Additional requirements for all directors and significant shareholders are laid out in the Companies Act 1956.
Government - NGO policy
The Voluntary Action Cell for overall policy co-ordination is under the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission sponsored a review of charities administration in India, which included recommendations such as:
• simplifying the procedures for registration;
• improving the infrastructure of the various regulatory bodies; and
• enhancing public access to information about charitable organizations.
The NGO Sector
A 2003 report by PRIA estimated that there are nearly 1.3 million NGOs operating in India, employing around 3.4% of the adult population and their estimated total income for 1999-2000 was Rs. 17,922 crores.
There are a number of self-regulatory initiatives that have been developed by the Indian NGO sector, such as: