NPOs urge government to clarify ‘against national interest’ phrase
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New Delhi: Not-for-profit associations, rushing to submit their response to proposed changes to the rules governing foreign contributions by Wednesday’s deadline, have urged the government to clearly define the term ‘against national interest’—a key reason cited for the recent crackdown on such groups.
The organizations also expressed concern on requirements for online submission of documents.
On 17 June, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) uploaded the proposed amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules (FCRR), 2011, on its Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) webpage and directed that any comments be submitted by 1 July, by email or post.
A handful of civil society organisations met in Delhi on 30 June to collect recommendations under the aegis of Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), which is focused on promoting volunteerism.
A similar meeting was also held on Tuesday in Bengaluru under the aegis of Alternate Law Forum (ALF), a legal research and advocacy organization.
All not-for-profit associations who receive foreign donations are required to register with the MHA’s foreigners’ division under FCRA, 2010, which is governed by the FCRR that is being sought to be amended.
They include a wide swathe of civil society organisations such as NGOs, hospitals, educational institutions and places of worship.
“Most of these amendments reflect actions for compliance from registered organisations, without any accountability and assurance of communication from the department,” said Harsh Jaitli, CEO of VANI.
Citing examples of not-for-profits working in far-flung areas with limited Internet access, Vinay Sreenivasa of ALF said, “We welcome the move for transparency, but reliance on the digital world is limited to city-based organisations.”
The amendments require all submissions to be made online.
The proposed amendments come in the wake of the MHA’s cancellation or suspension of FCRA licences of thousands of organisations and recent court cases such as Greenpeace India’s petition against MHA’s cancellation of its FCRA account.
At loggerheads with the government, these organizations say the use of vague terms such as ‘against national interest’, which is not defined either in the Act or the rules, can be used to harass organizations.
The amendments propose that these organizations notify the MHA within seven days of receipt of any foreign funds and for banks to notify the ministry within 48 hours if an organization without an FCRA-registered account or prior permission certificate receives foreign funding.
All organisations registered with the MHA currently need to provide social media details of their employees, such as Twitter handles and Facebook accounts. In addition, NPAs need to submit a declaration every year stating that they have not used the foreign funds in any activity against national, economic or public interest.
Organisations like VANI and ALF are demanding that the ministry show flexibility toward small, grass-root organisations for complying with the digital aspects of the proposed rules.
MHA officials did not respond to phone calls made to their offices or respond to emails.