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Foreign funding rules to "affect" Indian NGOs working on human rights, policy, governance, electoral reforms

By Rajiv Shah
India’s civil society organizations have strongly objected to the new Foreign Contribution Regulation (FRC) Rules notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which require the NGOs to give an "affirmation" that they are not used the foreign contribution for activities that are likely to “prejudicially affect” the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security, strategic, scientific and economic interests of the state and the public interest.
Circulating a note written by a senior activist for perusal and comments to NGOs receiving foreign contribution, Subhash Mittal, secretary, Socio-Research Reform Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO, comments, says, “Many organizations which work on, says, human rights, legal rights, policy, governance, electoral reforms related issues, may face interpretation issues.”
However, he adds, the “organizations who are working on clear cut issues (say health, water, development, etc.), such interpretation may not pose problem.”
This undertaking is part of the new form FC-4, which must for submitting annual statement of receipt and utilization of foreign contribution, which NGOs receive for their developmental activities.
Pointing out that this is a “new ground” introduced in the rules, the note says, “The earlier form, or even in the draft form circulated earlier, specified which activities NGOs cannot indulge in, such as those that ‘prejudicially affect’ the freedom or fairness of elections to any legislature, friendly relations with foreign State and harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes or communities.”
Comments this note, authored one of the senior-most activists, Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), “So the combined effect of these elements of the new Form FC-4 is that there is little clarity about the specific activities for which FC can be received and used.”
The activist says, “Enormous discretion is placed in the hands of the government to determine whether or not a foreign funded NGO's activities must be curbed by suspending and eventually taking away its FC registration or prior permission.”
The activist underlines, “The grounds of affirmation are so overbroad that all national and international advocacy and mobilisational activities of NGOs will come under the government's scanner and become potential ground for taking away the FCR registration.”
In another objection, the note says, the new rules require that all plain paper applications for FCR Act processes have been done away with. “This may cause a major problem for NGOs working in remote areas without access to high speed internet connections”, the note says.
There are, for instance, many parts of Jammu and Kashmir, “which cannot access even 2G Internet speed on many days of any month even though some service providers boast about providing 3G speed and services. The same could be true of several other States, which are just about opening up to the Internet.”
Also objecting to all payments under the FCR Act-related services to be made only through electronic payment gateway specified by the Government of India, the note says, “So now NGOs will have to make one of their functionaries to use his/her personal credit/debit card.”
This is particularly strange, as “banks do not issue credit or debit cards in the names of NGOs. Or, NGOs will have to make use of net banking for making these payments. So NGOs will have to authorise their functionaries to operate net banking for making these payments”, the note says.
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