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The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday sent a notice to the Union home ministry seeking clarification on the government’s approach to renewal of licences under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act for not-for-profits, especially those working to protect human rights.

This notice is based on complaints received at the 7th Asian Regional Human Rights Defenders Forum held in Colombo from 14 November to 16 November.

A press release uploaded on the NHRC website details the proceedings leading up to the issuing of this notice to the home ministry and terms the government’s approach to renewal of such organizations “draconian". The release states that the commission has taken takes suo motu cognizance and directed the home secretary to inform it within a period of six weeks on the following: 

a) The number of human rights not-for-profit organizations that have not been allowed renewal of the licence and the amount received by them from foreign funding during last three years and the reason for non-renewal.

b) To point out in case of Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns (more publically known through its programme People’s Watch) how the litmus test laid down by the UN special rapporteur is applied in the adjudication by the central government.

c) How the generic aspect of access to foreign funding and continuance of the same is not the right to form association and is not against international law, standards and principles.

The notice has come soon after many of the organisations, who have been denied FCRA licence renewal have challenged the home ministry’s decision in courts. Last week, Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns, along with another organization, Learning Matters Foundation, filed a case against the ministry of home affairs for denying it the renewal, as Mint reported earlier.

The FCRA, born during the 1970s Emergency era, is aimed at regulating the flow of money from outside the country into the not-for-profit sector. The Act requires organizations to register with the foreigners division of the home ministry, which issues licences to receive such money.The Act was amended in 2010 to make it mandatory for groups receiving foreign money to renew their licence every five years.

The ministry website shows there are more than 40,000 such organizations registered with it, all of whom needed to apply to the ministry between April and June this year to renew their licences. The organizations were to receive the renewed licences by 31 October, as Mint reported earlier.

Repeated requests to the ministry of home affairs regarding the status of remaining organizations registered with it, over mail and phone were unanswered.

The NHRC release goes on to state that the complaint to the commission alleges a “...systematic attack on rights of the Human Rights Defenders and on fundamental rights of the association and assembly as enshrined in the Article 19 of the Constitution of India..."

Citing the recent international criticism of the use of FCRA to curb dissent in the country, the commission has pointed to UN special rapporteur Maina Kia’s legal critique of the act. The rapporteur pointed out that FCRA in not conformity with international law, principles and standards to freedom of association.

Along with providing the above information, NHRC has directed the government to help the commission in taking up the hearing of the matter and to decide whether the review of FCRA can be recommended.

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