New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government introduced the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020, in the Lok Sabha Sunday, seeking to make significant changes to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
The bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha by Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, faced objections from leader of the opposition Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, his Congress colleague Manish Tewari, and Trinamool Congress’ Saugata Roy, who termed it a means to “crush dissent” and “concentrate powers in the hands of the government”.
NGOs have also criticised various proposals in the bill, saying it will only enhance government power and restrict foreign-funded civil society work in India.
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The amendment bill seeks to prohibit ‘public servants’ from receiving any foreign funding, and also proposes to reduce the use of foreign funds to meet administrative costs by NGOs from the existing 50 per cent to 20 per cent.
The new FCRA, if passed, will also “prohibit any transfer of foreign contribution to any association/person”.
The government further proposes to make Aadhaar cards a mandatory identification document for all office-bearers, directors and other key functionaries of NGOs or associations eligible to receive foreign donations.
Opposition parties have taken strong objection to the proposed amendments, saying they are a means to “target those who speak against the government”.
A clause in the bill states that it will allow for the central government to hold a summary inquiry to direct bodies with FCRA approval to “not utilise the unutilised foreign contribution or receive the remaining portion of foreign contribution”.
The clause states: “Provided the central government, on the basis of any information or report, and after holding a summary inquiry, has reason to believe that a person who has been granted prior permission has contravened any of the provisions of this act, it may, pending any further inquiry, direct that such person shall not utilise the unutilised foreign contribution or receive the remaining portion of foreign contribution which has not been received or, as the case may be, any additional foreign contribution, without prior approval of the central government.”
Raising objection to the clause, Congress’ Chowdhury said: “This will crush dissent and confine unnecessary power in the hands of the government.”
Anandpur Sahib MP Tewari said the bill would be “used against people who speak against the government”, and that it would give “unbridled power” to the government.
TMC’s Roy, reiterating Tewari’s comments, said this is “another example of ‘Big Brother watching’”.
“This is mainly directed at minority organisations… Freedom of social organisations working in rural or tribal areas will be hampered. The idea should be to deregulate foreign funding and not over-regulate,” Roy said.
Also read: Govt cancelled FCRA registration of 1,807 NGOs in 2019 for violating laws
‘Fatal blow to civil society work’
Many civil society leaders and NGO workers, such as Biraj Patnaik, executive director of the National Foundation for India, have called the proposed FCRA amendments a “fatal blow to civil society work”.
“These amendments will ensure that the ease of doing business for civil society organisations gets significantly curtailed, even as the ease of doing business continues to be enhanced for corporations working for profit,” Patnaik told ThePrint.
Patnaik said the amendment seeking to limit the use of foreign funds for administrative purposes “would impact research and advocacy organisations which use the funding to meet their administrative costs”.
“Many of them will have to shut down if this amendment is brought about,” he said.
Another proposed amendment that NGOs are opposing is the prohibition of transfer of funds received from foreign contributions to any other person or entity.
“No person who is registered and granted a certificate or has obtained prior permission under this act and receives any foreign contribution shall transfer such foreign contribution to any other person,” the bill states.
Patnaik said this amendment would have a “devastating impact on the community work” being done by various NGOs.
“A lot of smaller grassroots organisations work by way of getting money from larger organisations that aggregate the funds, and now with that route closed, thousands of smaller organisations will be impacted,” he said.
Objections to public servant clause
The clause prohibiting public servants from receiving foreign funding has also drawn flak.
Henri Tiphagne, founder and executive director of Madurai-based human rights organisation People’s Watch, said this clause “exposed the double standards” of the government.
“If political parties are allowed foreign donations, if PM-CARES can receive foreign donations, then how can the government say that a public servant cannot use foreign contribution? This is being done to target the people who speak against the government,” he said.
Tiphagne added that the bill was brought in to “target people like Indira Jaising”. In December 2016, the home ministry had cancelled the FCRA licence of Jaising and Anand Grover’s NGO Lawyers Collective.
The order had stated that Jaising, who was the additional solicitor general of India between 2009 and 2014 under the previous UPA government, had violated FCRA norms by receiving foreign funds when she was a government servant.
Challenging the order, the Lawyers Collective had argued that Jaising was a “public servant and not a government servant, on whom there was no bar to receive FC (foreign contribution)”.
Also read: The FCRA violation case behind CBI raids on Indira Jaising, Anand Grover and their NGO
This fatal blow to civil society work was very much awaited. The very conversion work was being done in the name of social work. This was vandalism. Many thanks to MHA.
Only Christian missionaries and urban Naxals received foreign funding under the garb of NGOs ,that’s why they are opposing
Welcome step by the home minister. Kudos!
Lot of funds are flowing into India for Christian missionary work. This needs to be curtailed. If the amendment pays way to it, all is indeed good.
Very good move by govt. All nefarious activities by so called NGOS will be stopped.
This is a really good move by govt and should have been brought much earlier.
A similar quest for transparency should inform the scheme of Electoral Bonds as well.
Opposition thinks all good civil society work depends on foreign funding and that Indians are not able to fund their own social causes.
Also, where in the world would you have ‘administrative’ expenses of 50%??!!
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