Indian law on foreign funds to NGOs worries UN body

The UN stand assumes significance owing to the government response to the Kudankulam crisis over foreign funding to NGOs.

Pallavi Polanki March 13, 2012 20:06:55 IST
Indian law on foreign funds to NGOs worries UN body

In what is perhaps the first international reaction to the Indian government's heightened scrutiny of NGOs receiving foreign funds, the United Nations Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya has in a report presented at the ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva expressed concern about the new regime introduced by Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010.

The more stringent FCRA, 2010, which replaced the FCRA of 1976, came into force on 1 May 2011.

In her report (presented on 5 March) on the situation of human rights defenders in India, Sekaggya has observed that some of the provisions of the new Act "may lead to abuse by the authorities when reviewing applications of organisations which were critical of authorities". Read full report here.

Indian law on foreign funds to NGOs worries UN body

Under scanner. Reuters

The statement by the Special Rapporteur gains significance, coming at a time when the Home Ministry has been turning up the heat on foreign-funded NGOs and the Prime Minister himself only a few weeks ago pointed fingers at US-based NGOs for fuelling the anti-nuclear protests at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu.

Incidentally, among those who spoke at the session after the Special Rapporteur presented her report, was Henri Tiphagne, executive director of People's Watch, a Madurai-based human rights organisation, which was sent a notice by the FCRA wing of the Home Ministry in early February.

In his oral statement at the UN, Tiphagne raised the issue of government action on NGOs in Tamil Nadu.

"In recent weeks, NGOs in Tamil Nadu have been targeted on allegations of opposing the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, presenting an example of abuse of this law with any due process adhered to." Read full statement here.

Tiphagne, just back from Geneva and on a short visit to Delhi, spoke to Firstpost about the significance of the UN Special Rapporteur’s statement.

"The effort here is to see that procedures that are put in place for the scrutiny of NGOs are transparent and accountable. It is not to say that government should not use FCRA. After all, when we are asking for accountability from the government, from the corporates, accountability of NGOs is also welcome.

"But take the example of the recent notices from the Home Ministry to NGOs in Tamil Nadu. They make no mention of Kudankulam, of diverting funds, of fuelling protests. By simply citing ‘prejudicially affecting public interest’, you are stopping funding. This amounts to gagging. The government has to show cause that the NGO is diverting funds or that answers provided by the NGOs are not satisfactory."

Tiphagne, an advocate, says that the FCRA has in the past been an Act that has not been properly implemented.

"That is the government’s own fault. Now, this legislation which is supposed to improve standards of accounting is being used to clamp down on NGOs that are expressing dissent. And the government is trying to link that dissent with organisations that are receiving foreign funds. You are doing complete injustice to the poor with this of justification. To thwart dissent by saying it is being fuelled by another country is the wrong approach.”

The government in its response to the Special Rapporteur’s report, while conceding that some of the provisions of the public security laws and the FCR Act "may be abused by authorities involved, in the execution of such laws", has given assurance that "we are conscious of the need to ensure accountability of the law enforcement officials and have taken due note of her concerns".

The Special Rapporteur visited India in January last year, during which she met over 350 human rights groups, top bureaucrats and police officers, members of the human rights commissions, judges from the Delhi High Court, members of the diplomatic community and members of the UN agencies in Delhi, Bhubaneshwar, Kolkata, Guwahati, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar.

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