Posted by: Vikram | January 9, 2009

What can explain the regional variations in NGO activity across India ?

The Association for India’s Development (AID) raises funds in the US and India and supports NGO activity across India. This map shows the NGOs and projects supported across the Indian states. Ideally we would expect the number of NGOs to be roughly proportional to the population of a state, but this is far from the case. We also expect NGO activity to be proportional to the literacy and economic development, but this correlation does not hold always either.

The case of Punjab and Tamil Nadu



I like Punjab (ਪੰਜਾਬ) -Tamil Nadu (தமிழ்நாடு) comparisons because I cant think of two states more culturally far apart than them, but both have done reasonably well in terms of development. Both have literacy rates of 74%, low fertility (2, 1.8 ) and high per capita incomes (43000, 36000). This shows to extent that human and economic development dont have much relation to cultures, but more to do with society and politics.

But on observing the NGO stats for the two states we see that Tamil Nadu has a lot more NGO activity than Punjab. Granted, that there might be some biases, but the there is a 1 to 38 difference! And indeed, just from personal experience I can say that Tamil people are very civic minded, Punjabis not so much. This lack of civic activism translates into low social development (sex ratio: 876 to 987) and significantly higher levels of corruption in Punjab than TN.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu

So why ? I think among the important reasons for Punjab’s development were natural resources that the state had, substantial remittances from the diaspora and the massive investment it got from the Union Government. In Tamil Nadu’s case, economic growth has come on the back of a social reform movement, which politically and civically activated the population, and is mainly driven by improvements in agricultural productivity and the skills of the population. This civic minded population is now making better use of democracy and freedom of speech to demand a cleaner, more efficient government. This is the best I can come up with, perhaps there are other reasons involved as well.

What do other states tell us ?

Utthan in Gujarat

Utthan in Gujarat

One can clearly see the social activism in Gujarat (ગુજરાત), inspite of modest social and economic development. Indeed in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, due to the refusal of Modi’s government to rehabilitate displaced riot victims, NGOs like Utthan and Anhad are taking care of their disadvantaged fellow citizens. In general, NGO activity in Gujarat seems very strong and I attribute this to the strong sense of Gujarati pride and identity. I think similar reasons plus past social movements are responsible for the high NGO activity in Maharashtra (महाराष्ट्र).

Some reasons for worry

The heartland states, which need civic-activism the most, do not have enough of it today. There are some very good NGOs based in Bihar and UP, doing some excellent work but not enough of them. The reasons are clear, lack of education, awareness and exposure to media.

North East states like Nagaland, Manipur along with Jammu and Kashmir dont do well inspite of decent human development, mainly due to separatist movements and security concerns.


Economic and basic human development cannot guarantee a clean, corruption free government. In fact, many countries at a higher level of development than India, for eg. Russia, face bigger corruption problems. To ensure good governance a vibrant civic movement independent of the government is needed. Particular development paths and cultures can influence civic-activism. Once present though, civic activism is self-sustaining, improving a society’s standards that leads to more activism and so on.

The Utthan image is from the Utthan website, TN image from and Punjab from The Independent newspaper


  1. That was an interesting post. There are also the women self help groups in TN which creates opportunities for women to make money by learning some skills, in rural areas. There is another NGO which redistributes the land from huge landlords, temples etc. to poor farmers (at a fairly low cost) so that they could own their land. Even though some of the NGO’s are accused of corruption, at large, they are yet to become like Govt. Offices. Let us hope they don’t.

    Destination Infinity

    Thank you DI. TN does have a wide variety of NGOs tackling different issues. Lets hope the rest of India can catch up.

  2. Vikram

    There are many other parameters like say poverty reduction, Tamilnadu has about 20% population below poverty line compared to 7% of Punjab.

    similarly, the success of punjab lies mainly in the enterprising spirit of the people, not in so called “natural resources”….. because “natural resources” are no less in TN, and are more in the states like Bihar which couldn’t exploit it.

    Behind the success of agriculture in Punjab is the mindset of farmers to do farming as an enterprise to make huge profits rather than doing it for just living….That’s why one shouldn’t be surprised to see number of crorepati farmers in rural Punjab (or Haryana)

  3. \\because I cant think of two states more culturally far apart than them\\

    I agree, Even Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the same thing in “Discovery of India”.

  4. Vikram, its a bit surprising that this post wasn’t contested with the vigour the last post was. Because while I tend to agree with the ‘conclusion’, even without the data, your data and source make it difficult. The data that you get from AID do not show number of NGOs in the states, but no. of NGOs funded by/ implementing AID’s project. It probably speaks more about AID than civic activism in the states.

    example: Directory of the NGOs listed 5,817 voluntary organisations in 1994 and a recent list showed 2,863 in Orissa alone (frontline feb 11, 2005).

  5. @ Vivek, Welcome to the blog. Do u mean enterprising in the sense of finding relatively better paying jobs abroad and remitting money ? Because the state itself is pretty agrarian. And by natural resources I meant the fertile soil and rivers that flow through the Punjab. Part of Tamil Nadu is semi-arid and the state does seem to have more flooding/natural disasters. I am always reluctant to ascribe things to ‘hardworking nature’ or ‘enterprising spirit’ 🙂 .

    @ Prabin, I did acknowledge the inherent bias in using AID’s data. But let me assure you, we have try to have no biases on our side, but forget funding them, we hardly get any proposals from Punjab NGOs. We have quite a few projects in Orissa, if you observe.

  6. I didnt see the disclaimer about using AID data in your post, hence was my comment. And good to know the AID isnt partial about funding projects.

    The new ‘subscribe to post’ plug in is cool. It was a very important thing i missed moving from blogger.

  7. Prabin, I did mention,

    “But on observing the NGO stats for the two states we see that Tamil Nadu has a lot more NGO activity than Punjab. Granted, that there might be some biases, but the there is a 1 to 38 difference!”

    I havent looked into that plugin, I’ll take a look.

  8. ok then. I stand corrected.

  9. Vikram, an excellent analytical post backed by hard data!

    Thank You, Nita.

  10. Social NGO’s fails in propagating progress and relief for the same cause for which welfare states fails.
    On the other hand, Economical NGO’s gains success.

    Social NGOs work in a wide variety of areas on a wide variety of issues. To give you an example right now AID Austin supports NGOs promoting and sustaining organic farming in Kerala, improving the quality of math education in TN schools, ensuring rehabilitation for displaced slum dwellers in Delhi, enforcing NREGA implementation in Orissa, tracking Environmental Compliance by large projects in HP and Karnataka among other things. My own personal objective in these initiatives is empowering people in India by education and strengthening Indian democracy, not ‘relief’ from poverty. And the project I have chosen to co-ordinate and the other projects that we support are evidence enough.

    Poverty depends on the production capability. If a person is poor, it means he is not able to produce enough for the sustenance of a healthy living.

    In general social NGO’s just like socialist system, changes the sense of poverty and makes it relative.

    I think that moving up from absolute poverty to relative poverty is to be considered a success.

    A person is not poor because some other is rich. So even if a part of wealth of the rich is distributed in poor,

    I have not encountered a single NGO that does that. That is defintely not the idea. NGO = Non Governmental Organization, so in some sense even capitalist enterprises are NGOs.

    poor may get a better living for a period, than again they wil be on same state of poverty. Poverty can be reduced only by increasing the productivity of the poor.
    And that can be done by creating jobs employment and options of production.
    By that, not only the production is increased(and hence the resources, thus poverty decreases) but also, the poor gets in habit of self-reliance

    See my comment above empowerment above.

    , he denies taking unearned help.
    Just opposite to it, the socialist way of reducing poverty, affects further poverty. Because by distribution of wealth, not only the potential of rich to promote entrepreneurship and create job decreases, but also, the poor looses all incentives of being self-reliance. he gets a profit in remaining poor always, as it provides him help unearned. Why will a man work if he gets free food everyday, free cloths and shelter?

    Lethargy is an addiction much more common than alcoholism or drug addiction. And India is quite famous for beggars. These welfare system and Social NGO’s may create beggars only but not any actual progress.

    On the other hand, any system promoting the sense and need of increase the productivity of poor works Much efficiently.
    For example, Vikram Akula’s Microfinance works much better in reducing poverty and eradicating illiteracy too By Private capitalist method. because the system is being ruled by the ethics of selfishness and hardwork.

    About the again loose point of lack of education and all you mentioned about Bihar, Bihar is not suffering because of lack of education. it is suffering the lack of industrialization and production.

    Well the industries will only set up shop where there is cheap labour and skilled labour, the first you can get anywhere in India, the second you can not get in Bihar.

    If one promotes free-education to poor, it means the money is to be invested in education. But wealth is limited. So the wealth which could have been invested in increasing the production is now malinvested in education. But education doesn’t produce wealth. It doesn’t produce work too.
    It produces educated unemployed though. And just like in kerala, these educated unemployed commits suicide in absence of production.

    If the limited wealth is invested in Production, the poor will get Ways of Income. Every person neeeds and dreams for progress. So obviously if a person starts making evena minimal wage everyday, he starts saving some of the money from it. And he invests that money in education and development of his children and family, or to provide better food and facilities etc.
    Also, he feels self-reliant he feels he earned it, and this feeling increases his self-confidence.

    Thus, by industrialization, by promoting production, not only the poverty is reduced, but education also spreads. Also since the working person need to teach his children, it further increases jobs, and further wealth production. it is a progressive cycle.

    Basically, it is the main reason of progress of Mumbai area of maharstras, as chances of production there are more. On the other hand, in Vidharbha region, as chances of production are minimal, people are poor commiting suicides.
    Same is in kerala, Kerala is affluent in some parts other parts are suffering.

    Gujrat is much better than any other state because in Gujrat although literacy rate is lower than of kerala, but production is higher in gujrat.

    Since production is higher, people earn, and then they invest in their children’s progress too, thus literacy is also increasing. The major thing is people are producing their living.
    Obviously, NRI investment, Entrepreneur talent of Gujratis makes them better to face poverty and win over it.
    Bihar suffers more, because Industrialization is Minimal there. Since there are very less chances of production, literacy rate is also low. To increase literacy and education, production need to be increased.
    Yet people of Bihar are not commiting suicide because they are yet not addicted to government helps and NGO’s socialist helps. They still believe in earning the living. So instead of taking unearned help, Biharis prefer to move to the areas where they can produce income. they can work and earn a self-reliant self-respecting living.

    <PPP, population, Poverty and production

    I think you have narrowed the work of NGOs way too much …. they work in many diverse areas.

  11. Gargi, this might broaden your horizons,

    I replied to the rest of your comment in the comment itself.

  12. \\enterprising in the sense of finding relatively better paying jobs abroad and remitting money\\

    Vikram, then perhaps you dont understand what was i talking about. Enterprising sirit means entrepreneural abilty of the people, which leads to creating jobs for others…You can see many such examples in India and abroad..

    But here in this parcular case i was talking about the farming in Punjab/Haryana…..where farmers have made it a big profit making busness….

    Havn’t you heard of the big enterprises in rural Punjab, where they have made some food processing units, some Biggest mushroom exporting hubs etc which are among the biggest in Asia..

    Soil is very fertile, no doubt, but i dont think it’s any less in the Gangetic plains of UP, Bihar and Bengal, who are among he poorer states of he country

  13. My knowledge of Punjab’s economy is limited. Even if they have food processing units and so forth they are still relying indirectly on their resources. Whereas TN tends to rely more on heavy industries and new economy industries for its growth.

  14. Gargi, this might broaden your horizons,

    The broadened Horizon shows how much wastage and poverty these socialist NGOs are hell bent to cause.

    How can you forget the failure of social NGO’s in Latoor, Gujrat earthquake reliefs, and Tsunami relief? 80% of money donated for relief works was embezzled and distorted and wasted.

    What money is? The worth of honest hard work of the honest Individuals, their productivity. 80% of it was wasted.

    Now about AIDS relief, it is the most bogus and most embezzled idea and there are proofs of it right from the desk of UNO and world bank.

    Have a look here.

    One more thing, do you really believe AIDS is an epidemic and without your NGO’s and welfare government’s work, it wont get any better?
    How much success your welfare government and NGO’s got in removing other causes like dowry etc?

    Nah its all bullshit. Let the economic NGO’s work. Most of the social problems including Health-care will be removed.

    Indian government and education boards causes health-care hazards in India. Indian government denies proper health-care for poor of India, in remote villages and not-so-developed cities. 70% of India is still not so developed furiously demanding free-market NGOs and capital industrialization.

    You want to see how Indian government and education board makes india suffer?

    check the second part of the post
    Socialized health-care system and Indian requirements You will come to know how Indian medical science study board of India is causing suffering for Indian poor. The article has mentioned the medical study boards of india and there working and effects.
    And here is words directly from a medical student
    <Indian Health care problem

    Anyways, NGOs working for AIDS are less helping and more commercially beneficial advertising. Yes such NGO’s provide some sense of good doing and fake altruism in some people. But the thing is altruism always causes wastefullness and suffering.

    AID = Association for India’s Development, nothing to do with the AIDS disease specifically. It works on a variety of issues as I have tried to demonstrate to you, but to no avail.

  15. Let me explain the issue of “Measuring Love” in calm way
    There is a a singer — -

    a> She loves singing, for her the value of pleasure she gets in singing is most important, she enjoys singing and she keeps trying to get better and better singer. Her love is selfish. For her, the popularity she gains is of lesser importance than her love for singing. That does not mean she does not love being popular singer. However, the intensities of the two loves differ.

    b> She loves popularity, and for that, she sings. She loves singing but for her, being a popular singer is more important. She keeps a study of how to entertain audience maximum rather than how to improve her singing. She gains popularity. It is her selfish love. In this case, her love for popularity is more intense than her love for singing.

    The live example is Amir Khan, for him acting is more important than popularity, hence he keeps trying to get best of his talent. He seldom goes for popularity; rather his love for acting is more intense. That provides him inspiration to do better and better.
    On the other hand, Shahrukh Khan is Popular actor, he also loves acting, but the intensity of his love for acting is less than his intensity of love to be popular. He is popular actor. That explains why most of his movies gets instant popularity although they severely lacks intent.
    There always remains certain actors whose intensity of love for acting is above any thing else. As for example, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Aparna Sen, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri etc.. They work for their intensity of love towards acting. Its most important value for them. They seldom goes for popularity. Though sometimes, to fulfil the monetary needs, they changes their track towards commercial cinema too, as Smita patil worked in Namak Halal, Shabana worked in Amar Akbar Anthony etc.

    The exceptional case is Amitabh. It is hardly difficult for one to check if his love for popularity is more, or love for acting is more. He maintains a coherent balance between his love for acting and love of popularity. Sometimes his intensity of love for acting goes higher, other times his intensity of love for popularity goes higher.

    In all of such cases, you will find that none of them works only for love of money. That does not mean they do not love money, but their intensity of love for money is pretty less in comparative measure of their intensities for acting or popularity. Yet, you can find many artists who act just for their love for money. Acting and popularity means very less for them. You may put the actors of pornographic movies in this category. But it is not necessary that they work for love of money. You can find many porn actors just working for their love for sex and exhibitionism. Their intensity of love for money is pretty less than their intensity of love for exhibitionism and sex.After All how can we forget our beloved Paris Hilton?

    P.S:: I was getting ready (and late) for my office hence my answer for the comments were a little haphazard and rash!

  16. thanks for the good initiative. hope that it will work. I am working as social work proferssional in kerala. i do run an ngo called Vincentian Service Society. an ngo working for the development of the rural people
    your contributions and suggestions and means for funding is welcomed

  17. Norby, welcome and thanks. Does your NGO have a website where I can learn more about ur work ?

  18. It works on a variety of issues as I have tried to demonstrate to you, but to no avail.

    Ok, so? you work for AID?

    What do you get from it? A satisfaction for your sense of serving the nation, serving people making them better? Yep you love the idea of helping out. It is good.

    See, the goodness of aims does not decide the efficiency to get them. Turn AID a economically sound working group, and its results will improve.

    About AID being specific for AIDS, or Earthquake relief, or Tsunami relief, or poor education or whatever its issues are, does it really matters?

    What I am demonstrating you is its useless.

    Although it doesn’t affect others until they are not wasting their money by investing money in such futile enterprises (Including CRY)!

    Social NGOs are thus better than government welfare prgrams cos NGOs asks for VOLUNTARY charity. on the other hand Government welfare loots through compulsive taxation. Either you pay, or you are the criminal. And that’s tyranny.

    I wish whole government of India becomes just an NGO like your AID that is no compulsory taxation,. let peop0le voluntarily donate.

  19. Odzer says I do not agree. Nods his head. Geographically Punjab was arid as well before the British set about building the world’s largest canal system in the world. A large part of the state that touches Rajasthan is still arid. I mean watermelon, peanut growing, camels on the street arid. We are also a small state compared with Tamil Nadu. We are also perhaps the only state in India that does not even have its own capital. We do not even have our own independent high court. Punjab has been ‘divided’ 4 times. We survived the partition of the country itself that was the world’s largest migration ever which Tamil Nadu has never seen. Many people lost everything they owned and yet they have rebuilt their lives with their hardwork. Also I find the disparity among rural and urban areas far less in Punjab than other states.

    We do not have many NGO’s agreed. However the Sikh religion that has the majority in Punjab has some NGO type activity inbuilt in to it. It is also an ‘efficient’ religion run by a board. With chairmen and god knows what other bureaucracy. The SGPC was only formed after much struggle against the British. We also need far less NGO activity than perhaps other states do. On the other hand the state is losing out now because we have hit a screeching halt on growth. So perhaps we need some NGO’s especially in counseling farmers etc.

    Monetarily the remittances are important but they are also a ‘recent’ phenomenon. Most of them are centered around the Doaba region of Punjab anyway. Puadh, Malwa and Majha have fewer people abroad. Punjabi’s have always had to interact with other cultures and they are naturally adaptable. Although it seems to only work once they leave their homeland.

    I did not mean to offend Punjabi semtiments, I realize that the Punjabis have been through a lot including Partition and Indira Gandhi’s misdeeds. And I did say that Punjab and TN are almost equally developed economically.

    But you cannot deny that TN has made more social progress. How else can you explain the disparity in sex-ratio ? Dont you think that some of the lack of economic growth is because females are not entering the broader workforce of the state ?

    You are absolutely right about farmers. Many farmers in both TN and Punjab are in absolutely dire straits. Much of it is due to overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, which our government is not paying much attention to due to the industrial lobbies. We are supporting a person called Nammalvar, helping him spread his know-how throughout TN, develop model organic farms, document and translate his traditional knowledge. A guy called Kai Mantsch also gave us a presentation on a movie he made with one Harpreet Kaur, and basically I learnt from him that the traditional knowledge of agriculture in Punjab might be lost now. If you do come across an NGO in the Punjab that is helping farmers, let me know. Nammalvar’s work needs to be expanded to other states and Punjab is a good candidate.

  20. Certain plans are coming through me which dream of raising the economic indicators of North Bihar while also enhancing the Food security of India, by the grace of HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (’Art of Living’). Kindly contact me at the earliest at my email, in order that the plans could be sent to you for comments.

  21. I love Punjab, am an Educated person. Is there some way I can be a help for Punjab

  22. So what? am also educated person, but am in indian, be proved my country and i love my country.

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