The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, or FCRA, needs to be “drastically overhauled” to make the law more facilitating than restrictive, a group of 86 former civil servants told Union Home Minister Amit Shah in an open letter on Tuesday.

Under the provisions of the law, non-profit organisations operating in India can receive foreign funds only after they are registered under the FCRA. The suspension of the licence makes nonprofits in the country ineligible to get fresh donations from abroad or use the existing foreign donations without the home ministry’s clearance.

Last year, the Centre had told Parliament that it has cancelled the foreign funding license of 6,677 non-governmental organisations between 2017 to 2021. This includes cancellation or suspension of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Oxfam India, Centre for Policy Research, and Centre for Equity Studies.

“These are all institutions whose activities are aimed at addressing the problems of the most marginalised sections of Indian society,” the former bureaucrats said in an open letter addressed to Shah. “Rights to food, work, wages, health and shelter and the right to lead a dignified life based on the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India feature prominently in the work of these organisations.”

The signatories of the letter include AS Dulat, KP Fabian, HS Gujral, Mira Pande, Julio Ribeiro and Aruna Roy.

They said that the cancellation of the foreign funding licences of nonprofits and punitive action by the central law enforcement agencies is an outcome of the “highly flawed” provisions of the FCRA.

“It seems as though, using the FCRA, the Government of India seeks to deter civil society organisations from seeking funding from foreign sources, although such access to foreign funds, through other legally sanctioned means, is freely available to the private sector, digital and print media and political parties,” they said.

The group told the Bharatiya Janata Party leader that the “restrictive and vaguely worded” clauses in the FCRA have been used to act against organisations that take an independent view on economic, social and political issues that may not be to the liking of the Centre.

“The Government of India should clarify how non-profit organisations can access foreign contributions if every moment is spent in complying with restrictive legislative provisions,” they said. “The actions of your Ministry and the various law enforcement agencies give rise to a strong suspicion that independent assessments of or perspectives about socio-economic indicators of the country are not welcome.”

The group has urged the government to direct central agencies to “cease needless harassment” of the non-profit organisations.

“Every expression of difference of opinion or dissent cannot be construed as violating the integrity and sovereignty of the country or as being against public interest,” it added.

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