In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, two of the topmost human rights NGOs with global presence, have strongly reacted to the Government of India’s reported refusal to renew foreign funding licenses of 25 NGOs “without valid reasons.”
Pointing out that this “violates their rights to freedom of expression and association”, the statement said, “On November 5, 2016, media reports quoted unnamed officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs as saying that the NGOs were denied permission under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which regulates foreign funding for NGOs, because their activities are not in the national interest”.
“While the government has not published the list of affected groups, it appears to include several human rights organizations”, the statement points out, adding, “The ability to access foreign funding is integral to the rights to free association and expression, which can only be restricted under narrow specified grounds.”
The statement quotes Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India, as saying that “the Home Ministry’s decision to prevent NGOs from receiving foreign funding without sound justification is mystifying. The Ministry has an obligation to show how these restrictions are necessary and proportionate.”
The statement notes, “On October 29, the Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns, a prominent Indian human rights organization better known by its programme unit People’s Watch, said that its request for renewal of its foreign funding license under the FCRA had been denied.”
It adds, “The FCRA website said: ‘On the basis of field agency report, the competent authority has decided to refuse [People’s Watch’s] application for renewal.’ No other reasons were given.”
Earlier, on October 21, the Ministry of Home Affairs denied a request from the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), a network of NGOs and people’s movements, for renewal of its FCRA license “without providing any reasons”, the statement says.
“An email from the Ministry to INSAF merely said: ‘Your application… has been refused due to following reasons: Your application for renewal is refused.’ INSAF also had its FCRA license suspended in April 2013, but the Delhi High Court quashed the suspension in September that year.”
Then, the statement says, “On October 28, 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs also sent a one-line email to the NGO Hazards Centre, a unit of the Sanchal Foundation, stating that their application for renewal had been denied ‘on the basis of field agency report’, adding, On November 3, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it had cancelled the FCRA licenses of 11,319 NGOs that had not applied for renewal of their licenses by the June 30 deadline.”
Pointing out that “the applications of another 1,736 NGOs were ‘closed due to non-submission of documents or deficient documents’, the statement says, “Successive governments have used the FCRA as a political tool to harass groups critical of government views and actions.”
Saying that in cases where organizations challenged the suspension of their FCRA, the courts have generally ruled in their favour, the statement says, “The courts have also repeatedly reminded the government that in a democracy, dissent should not be muzzled”, as it happened “in ruling for Greenpeace India activist Pillai, who had been prevented from traveling to London to raise concerns over a coal plant.”
The statement regrets, “Even as the authorities use the FCRA to tighten restrictions on nongovernmental groups, in March the government amended the law to retroactively legalize funding by foreign entities to political parties.”
Asking the Government of India “repeal the FCRA, or amend it so that it does not interfere with the rights to freedom of expression and association, and cannot be misused for political reasons”, the statement quotes Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch as saying, “While India is actively encouraging foreign investment in key industries, it is trying to deny funding for efforts to assist the most vulnerable and marginalized.”