Foreign funding law used to harass NGOs: rights groups

New Delhi/Bengaluru, Nov 8 (IANS) The Indian governments refusal to renew foreign funding licenses of 25 NGOs without valid reasons violates their rights to freedom of expression and association, Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Media reports on November 5 quoted unnamed Home Ministry officials as saying that the NGOs were denied permission under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which regulates foreign funding for NGOs. This was done as their activities were said to be not in the “national interest”.

While the government has not published the list of affected groups, it appears to include several human rights organizations, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement.

“The ability to access foreign funding is integral to the rights to free association and expression, which can only be restricted under narrowly specified grounds,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India.

“The Home Ministry’s decision to prevent NGOs from receiving foreign funding without sound justification is mystifying. The ministry has an obligation to show how these restrictions are necessary and proportionate,” Patel said.

On October 29, the Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns, an Indian human rights body better known by its programme unit People’s Watch, said its request for renewal of its foreign funding license under the FCRA had been denied.

On October 21, the Home Ministry also denied a request from the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), a network of NGOs and people’s movements, for renewal of its FCRA license without providing any reasons.

On October 28, the Home Ministry sent a one-line email to the Sanchal Foundation, of which the NGO Hazards Centre is a unit, stating that their application for renewal had been denied “on the basis of field agency report”.

On November 3, the Ministry said it had cancelled the FCRA licenses of 11,319 NGOs that had not applied for renewal of their licenses by the June 30 deadline.

It said that the applications of another 1,736 NGOs were “closed due to non-submission of documents or deficient documents”. These NGOs have been given a chance to make further submissions.

Successive governments have used the FCRA as a political tool to harass groups critical of government views and actions, Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch said.

In May, the Modi government temporarily suspended the FCRA status of the Lawyers Collective, an organization founded by well-known senior lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising, citing alleged violations under the FCRA.

While it is appropriate to regulate and scrutinize the financial affairs of not-for-profit organizations and NGOs to address corruption and legitimate national security concerns, the FCRA is too broad and unnecessarily infringes on the activities of organizations that address social issues in India, the statement said.