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A file photo of a Greenpeace India office in Bengaluru. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
A file photo of a Greenpeace India office in Bengaluru. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

FCRA goes online, but NGOs not happy

Primary concern is how organizations in remote areas or those with little or no access to the Internet will be able to comply

Bengaluru: The home ministry’s move to digitize processes that foreign-funded non-profits undertake, starting from registration to filing returns, under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010, has not been met with much enthusiasm.

FCRA falls under the purview of the home ministry’s foreigners division and, on Monday, home minister Rajnath Singh said all services offered under FCRA have been made online, reducing the human interface to a minimum.

It means all application forms can now be filled online, documents can be uploaded online and even payment of fees can be done online, according to a PTI report.

Not just that, all types of queries and replies to the applicants will be made through emails. Even digitally signed registration certificates and prior permission sanctions will be issued to the applicants through emails. The move seeks to move all paperwork online and does not currently give the option to file hard copies.

The primary concern of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been how organizations located in remote areas or those with little or no access to the Internet will be able to comply with this digital move.

“We have about 130 NGOs that we fund and many are located in remote areas like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, etc., so it would be very difficult for them to comply with moving all reporting online. They should make provisions for physical support too because small organizations don’t have access to technology. It seems like an initiative that divorces NGOs from the officials completely," said Nisha Agarwal, chief executive of Oxfam India, a non-profit that works to empower the underprivileged and gets the majority of its funding from Oxfam across the world.

Vinuta Gopal, interim co-executive director of Greenpeace India, said this will not remove the concerns about the interpretation of FCRA. “We still continue to have issues with the selective and draconian interpretation of FCRA and this does not change anything. It is a secretarial move."

The ministry suspended Greenpeace India’s licence for receiving foreign funds in June 2014 and the NGO even came close to shutting down in India.

According to the new rules, to make the receipt and utilization of foreign contribution by any NGO transparent, organizations are required to place the annual returns and such data quarterly on their website or website as prescribed by the central government.

Some of the NGOs do acknowledge that this move will help do away with any ambiguity and improve transparency, but say it will be time consuming and increase costs.

“Because of lack of communication between ministry of finance and MHA (ministry of home affairs), there have been instances of licenses of non-profits being axed purely because of a lag in communication, and those instances can be avoided with this move. But this will take a lot of time and energy and increase costs for us," said Mathew Jacob, director, programmes, People’s Watch, a human rights organization whose FCRA licence was suspended thrice in 2012.

Also, the other concern NGOs have is that, currently, the move does not give any grace period for NGOs to upload their documents online.

According to Rajesh Tandon, founder-president of Participatory Research in Action, an NGO that focuses on improving governance, the ministry has directed NGOs to file all their quarterly receipts within 15 days after the quarter ends.

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