Sunday, July 5, 2015

NGos under scanner: No Sympathies for Teestas


It's the alleged faulty modus operandi of the NGOs in taking overseas financial help lies the genesis of the malady. The Government claims as many as 45,000 NGOs receive foreign funding under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act FCRA, for which they have to comply with a set of conditions, including the filing of annual returns on foreign donations. 
By September-October 2014 - hardly three months in office, working on a "normal government procedure”, the Home Ministry under Modi regime issued show-cause notices to 10,343 NGOs for not furnishing annual returns, giving them an opportunity to respond within 30 days.
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This is what angered the likes of Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister Modi himself.

The officials reportedly had tough time explaining to these politicians why there was no response from as many as 8975 NGOs. There was more to it as over 500 notices returned to the North Block 'undelivered'. So the questions cropped up why such NGOs could get away with the vanishing acts and had the audacity to ignore official notices.

“We felt there was something going wrong somewhere,” says an insider aware of the NGOs funding issue adding by April 2015, Home Secretary L C Goyal directed babus to quickly draw up a list of 'questionable NGOs'.
“And as the list was drawn and some names were further scrutinized, it has been suspected that many non-government organisations registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in India were allegedly also 'indulging in money laundering'. Thus, the Enforcement agencies had to jump into actions,” a source said.

It was also revealed that hence suspecting money laundering the Home Ministry referred the cases where donation amount ranged above Rs 1 crore to the CBI and the state police. This was termed as ‘crackdown regime’ against the voluntary organizations.
The US ambassador to India, Richard Verma too was not behind.

Obama's trusted Indian-American Envoy
For sometime in November-December last year, the government changed the working style. Instead of chasing the NGOs operating in India, a scanner was applied on the donor organisations.

"It came to light that probably 3000 foreign donors give funds to Indian agencies and small-time voluntary organisations. Out of these only 16 have been found with some instances of violations of law and security issues. 

Thus, they were served notices and have been kept on Home Ministry's watch list," an insider told Power Politics. These organisations have been now asked to seek Home ministry's prior permission before drawing money from foreign agencies.

Before going further it would be pertinent to understand that the law prohibits clearly that there few categories of people and organizations who cannot draw foreign financial assistance. These include political parties and organisatons of a 'political nature'.
It's here, the government has generally found fault with the NGos. There have been expected round of war cry. And as expected, there are angry edits and reactions already. 

"The Ford case smacks of political payback. The listing stems from a complaint by the Gujurat State government about the Sabrang Trust, a private group that has received grants from Ford. The trust, its founder, Teesta Setalvad, and her husband have worked on behalf of victims of sectarian riots in Gujarat in 2002, when Mr. Modi was chief minister (of Gujarat),” ran an editorial in The New York Times virtually passing a verdict on the dispute. 

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The reference was to the Ministry of Home Affairs decision placing the US-based popular Ford Foundation, which has made $500 million in grants to organizations in India since 1952, on a national security watch list. The US administration too joined the issue in a more explicit manner.
"I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India. Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs,” said the US ambassador to India Richard Verma.

"There is no witch-hunt against NGOs...," reacted MoS Home Kiren Rijiju even as over the past few months, the Home Ministry has cancelled the Foreign Contribution Regulatory Authority (FCRA) registration of Greenpeace, and put 16 foreign donors including Ford Foundation on its watch list. It has also cancelled the registration of 8,975 NGOs for violating norms. 

The reference was to the Ministry of Home Affairs decision placing the US-based popular Ford Foundation, which has made $500 million in grants to organizations in India since 1952, on a national security watch list. The US administration too joined the issue in a more explicit manner.
"I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India. Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs,” said the US ambassador to India Richard Verma.

But the Indian authorities are not giving in to Washington's wishes.


The developments have resulted in that top NGOs, Green Peace and US Ford Foundation were hit with the funding restrictions. The government had meanwhile suspended Greenpeace India's foreign funding licence after accusing the environmental pressure group of hurting the country's economic interests. As stated earlier, Greenpeace India also had warned that it may be forced to shut down its operations in the country.
 But the government argument was it was acting as per the official rules and procedures.

BJP leader and union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju said the rules
and laws are for the country and added; "our interest is to protect interest of India"
"Until and unless we do anything out of law, why should somebody question us?," he asked responding to journalists in the Parliament premises after Richard Verma’s remarks went viral on the social networking sites, websites and television channels.

According to government records, there are about 3 million NGOs registered across the country, but a bulk of them exists 'only on paper'.  "A total of 45,000 organisations are registered under the FCRA after proper physical verification of their offices and bank accounts. Fear about this crackdown as being made out to be has only been expressed by organizations that have something to hide," says BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli.
Shiv Sena MP and spokesman Sanjay Raut endorsed Kohli's views.
"What the government has done is within its right and duty bound to do so," he remarked. The Sena leader also joined issued with the US envoy Richard Verma and said, "it's not the US ambassador's job to play advocate to NGOs and private players". 

A section of citizenry is also behind the government. Sharmila Gharpure wrote on Facebook, “The question is not whether NGOs work or not. The question is why don't they file returns on time? Why can't they answer to the notice sent to them… It was found that 520 NGOs were not traceable. No one is saying that all are involved in diverting foreign funds”.

While FCRA amendment Bill by the Congress-led UPA resulted in immense regulatory changes and thus reduction in funding, the government apparatus have over the years ensured that foreign donors face major hurdles while engaging with organizations which work in governance, environment and human rights issues.

The human rights issue, as expected, generated debate in the country's security system as often allegations of human right violations have been made against the armed personnel in the north east, trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir and also Naxal-hit states.
ends

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