The National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre on its non-renewal of NGOs’ licences to receive foreign funding. It wrote to the Home Affairs Ministry after the government’s “draconian approach” to renewing the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act licences of human rights defenders was brought to its notice.

“Prima facie, it appears that the FCRA licence non-renewal is neither legal nor objective, and thereby, impinges on the rights of human rights defenders in access to...foreign funding,” the NHRC notice said. Access to foreign financing can be limited only as prescribed by law, to “protect national security, public safety, public order, public health or morals”, and when deemed “necessary in a democratic society” to protect the rights and freedoms of others, it added.

The commission took suo-motu cognizance of the matter and gave the secretary of home affairs six weeks to submit information on human rights NGOs whose licences had been cancelled, the number of such organisations, as well as the reason for non-renewal of licences and the amount of foreign funds they received in the past three years.

After reviewing the information, the NHRC will decide whether it should recommend a review of the FCRA. The commission sent the notice to the ministry after the Seventh Asian Human Rights Defender Forum in Sri Lanka, which began on Monday, sought its intervention in the matter.

The Home Affairs Ministry had barred 1,736 NGOs from receiving foreign funds after they failed to renew their licence under the FCRA. A fortnight before this, more than 11,000 NGOs had lost their FCRA licences.

Currently, fewer than 19,000 NGOs are permitted to receive foreign funds. Two years ago, there were around 42,500 FCRA-registered NGOs.