Vinay Kumar

They say it will affect the working of civil society

  • `It arms Government with unchecked power'
  • Home Ministry cites internal security concerns

    NEW DELHI: Resentment is brewing in the voluntary sector over the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Bill, 2006, introduced in the Rajya Sabha during the winter session and sent to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs for further deliberations.

    Human rights groups and voluntary organisations have expressed apprehension that the proposed bill would affect the working of civil society under the guise of regulating the flow of foreign money.

    They described it as ``dangerous and of questionable merit'' that would choke the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

    The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) have drawn attention to at least seven provisions in the bill, saying it proposed blanket prohibition against foreign contribution to "organisation of political nature, not being political parties."

    It was subjective and could hamper the work of the NGOs. Under the earlier act such an organisation could get prior permission to receive foreign contributions, they felt.

    They said that a second provision of the bill gave the Central Government the authority to determine if such an organisation was ``of a political nature,'' based on its activities, ideology, programmes or association ``with activities of any political party.'' Vesting the Government with such unchecked power over the finances of the NGOs might sound the death knell of the country's vibrant non-profit community.

    Thirdly, there were restrictions on granting the certificate of registration. ``The bill states that the Central Government will provide a certificate of registration or prior permission for an organisation to receive foreign contributions if the Government is satisfied that the applicant has undertaken meaningful activity in its chosen field for the benefit of the people or has prepared a meaningful project for the benefit of the people,'' they pointed out.

    Fourthly, it wanted recipients of foreign funds to renew their registration every five years, and introduced fees for registration, renewal and prior approval. At present, registration under the FCRA was permanent and free. Renewal provisions were completely unnecessary because all the NGOs, whether they received foreign funding or not, were subject to audits and financial scrutiny under existing legislation such as the Income Tax Act, they pointed out.

    The fifth objection from the voluntary sector relates to the bill limiting to 50 per cent the amount of foreign contributions that the NGOs may spend on administrative expenses.

    The provisions of the bill put small groups who could not get funds because of FCRA registration at a disadvantage and if the Government was concerned about who was sending money, it must monitor the source, which could be done by asking for information from those who received funds.

    Policy guidelines

    However, Home Ministry officials said the new bill was in consonance with the Planning Commission's new policy guidelines on the voluntary sector. They pointed out that a national seminar on FCRA in collaboration with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India was held, where both the Home and Finance Ministers interacted with a cross section of the NGOs from all over the country. The bill was also posted on the Home Ministry's website to solicit the views of different stakeholder. More than 700 representations were received from all over the country, which were considered by the GoM, while finalising the bill.

    The Home Ministry sources said the receipt of donations to the NGOs would be facilitated after ensuring that the money was not being utilised against the national interest. They said that about Rs. 6,250 crore was received by NGOs in 2004-05 and even if a fraction of it went into the hands of those bent upon creating trouble and disturbing internal security, it could create havoc. Intelligence reports have shown the involvement of foreign funds in serious incidents in the past, which had a bearing on the internal security scenario. It would be necessary, they said, to screen the recipient organisation and their office bearers as well.