Civil society organisations on Thursday urged President Ram Nath Kovind not to sign the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020, The Indian Express reported. The groups said the law demonises them and questioned the way the ordinance was rushed through Parliament without any pre-legislative public consultations.
The legislation, which lays down conditions under which civil society organisations can receive funds from abroad, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday and the Lok Sabha a day earlier. Under the FCRA Act, certain persons are prohibited from accepting any foreign contribution. In its latest amendments, the Centre has added the category of “public servant” to it.
Besides this, the bill asks all key functionaries to furnish their Aadhaar cards.
The bill also reduces the limit of usable foreign contribution for administrative expenses from the current 50% to 20% and prevents transfer of foreign funding to any other person. Also, it empowers the cancellation of an FCRA certificate for another 180 days beyond the 180 days allowed at present.
The Voluntary Action Network India, or VANI, an apex body of Indian NGOs, said that the bill was passed without proper deliberation and consultation.
“When FCRA was amended in 2010, the Home Ministry worked very closely with the NGO sector and held numerous discussions,” said Harsh Jaitley, chief executive officer of VANI. “This sort of a rushing through of a Bill, without a proper consultative process [involving stakeholders] and proper discussion in Parliament, does not serve any purpose.”
Jaitley added that the proposed law was a “deathblow to civil society”, especially small NGOs working at grassroots levels. “It will adversely affect the stakeholders and, as we have seen in the past when such Bills are passed without stakeholder involvement, can often lead to corruption,” he said.
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Executive Director of Population Foundation of India Poonam Muttreja said the bill hampers the relationship between NGOs and the government . “A lot of work that civil society organisations do are in consonance with the government, and [they] carry out projects for the government among last-mile communities which are difficult to reach,” she said. “This kind of a bill puts the relationship of NGOs and the government in jeopardy.”
Muttreja highlighted the major role of NGOs in critical situations and said that when the coronavirus pandemic hit “NGOs were the first port of call for many, including the government”.
She said the bill has created an “air of mistrust around NGOs,” according to The Wire. “It will hurt civil societies which are all about commitment and caring as it demonises NGOs in the public mind,” Muttraja added. “We are part of the non-profit sector, it is not money but compassion which brings us here.”
AK Singh, founder and managing director of LEADS Trust, said it was painful that the Bill was passed amid a pandemic, when the government and NGOs are trying to work together to help people.
“The format in which we work is that all organisations are not equally competent in raising funds,” Singh told The Wire “So the bigger organisations raise funds and pass them to NGOs working among tribals and other backward and unreached sections of society so as to connect them to the development works.”
Singh said the new FCRA provisions – especially the one that constrains NGOs from sub-granting would impact hundreds of small NGOs and thousands of workers.
“This will render 5,000-7,000 workers unemployed in Jharkhand alone – most of them are Dalits, Adivasis or women,” Singh added. “So in times of COVID, this would impact the most marginalised.”