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Privacy, legal concerns raised over Govt of India mandating NGOs using foreign money to register, obtain UID number

By Our Representative
A Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Support Cell, an apex body of foreign funded NGOs, is all set to take strong exception to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) public notice, making it mandatory for all existing Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) organisations, as also those seeking FCRA registration, to register on NITI Aayog’s NGO-Darpan portal and generate a unique identification number (UIDN).
A draft letter it has prepared says that "although CSOs are committed to ensuring transparency and accountability of the sector, this mandatory requirement is not only unnecessary but does not appear to carry the mandate of law."
Currently being vetted by senior NGO leaders carrying out their activity with foreign funds, the letter says, there are already "fairly stringent mechanisms to regulate foreign funding of NGOs" and they have been complying with the "reporting procedures with information about the organisations, its chief functionaries, sources of funding, lists of activities, annual reports and so on."
Hence, it insists, "Registering and reporting on Darpan portal is therefore an unnecessary, additional requirement."
The letter, which will be sent to the MHA, says, "It is understood that the NGO Darpan-portal was set up to create a database of organisations which want to seek government funding. As such, a mandatory requirement for foreign-funded NGOs to register does not fulfil the objective of the portal to facilitate government funding."
It believes, "An additional requirement of registration with Darpan portal does not serve the purpose of streamlining the process of reporting to the government. It, in fact, makes it more cumbersome without any conceivable advantage."
The letter goes on: "It is also not clear as to whether the requirement of registration on Darpan is supported by the law. The FCRA and its allied rules, which regulate foreign funding of organisations, do not mandate any requirement for Darpan registration or UIDN."
It emphasises, "This requirement has been created by merely an executive notice which does not seem to have the requisite statutory backing."
"Further", the letter says, "There is no statutory backing for Darpan portal or NITI Aayog, as both have been established by executive action. There is also no clarity on grievance redressal mechanism, definition of ‘active members’ and safety measures for data protection of the portal."
According to the letter, "Public disclosure on the portal also raises concerns on questions of privacy as the range of information that is required to be submitted is excessive and intrusive. Not only does the portal require organisational particulars, but also individual details including Aadhaar number of ‘active members’."
Pointing out that this is particularly strange with the privacy concerns of Aadhaar is being tested for its Constitutional validity by the Supreme Court, the letter says, "These intrusive details could be used as tools for targeted harassment of critics of the government."
Referring to "the spate of increasingly stringent regulatory framework for the voluntary sector", the letter says, CSOs are "apprehensive that another tool that may be used to arbitrarily suppress and hamper, rather than facilitate and advance", their work.
The letter, drafted by Aditya Shrivastava, comes amidst the suggestion by several senior activists that the MHA should be told in clear-cut terms that, when it comes to foreign funds, they are being treated "differently" from industry and trade, which also receives foreign funds.
Pradeep S Mehta, who heads the CUTS Institute for Regulation & Competition, Jaipur, said in an email alert, "Considering the resolve of the government of 'minimum government, maximum governance' and the recent remarkable progress on World Bank's Ease of Doing Business ranking from 130 to 100, it would make eminent sense to regulate foreign funding of the civil society to the bare minimum", quite in line with the reforms agenda of the government.
"If FDI and FII do not face such controls, why should civil society's forex receipts be treated differently", he wonders.

Comments

Dwiji Guru said…
Leave aside for a minute the govt sanction nay, encouragement to bring in foreign funds to industry and trade - modifications to FCRA (made effective from a past date) condoned gross violations of the law by political parties that received foreign funds and allows them to keep recieving it without any road blocks !!

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