The Universal Periodic Review of India by the Human Rights Council on Thursday came amid growing concern by non-profit organisations in Tamil Nadu over successive governments at the Centre using the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as a tool allegedly to curb dissent and criticism.
Data collected by Civil Society Cell, a national platform for non-governmental organisations, show that 25 leading citizen groups, including Madurai-based People’s Watch, Lawyers Collective and Greenpeace, have had their licences permanently cancelled or suspended under FCRA. “There are many organisations, smaller and regional, which are apprehensive about details coming into the public domain,” said Anamika Mishra of the Cell.
In Tamil Nadu, the licences of over 1,800 NGOs, including leading charitable health organisations such as Voluntary Health Services (VHS), were cancelled between 2011 and 2016.“The governments are against people’s movements, against NGOs that oppose mining and dams, and work for the protection of land, forests, environment, animal rights. They feel the NGOs are affecting the country’s growth,” charged Mathew Cherian, chairman, Voluntary Action Network India.
“The government is against any kind of advocacy of rights. It wants the focus to be on welfare alone,” contended Andrew Sesuraj of Tamil Nadu Child Rights Observatory.
The People’s Watch, founded by Henry Tiphagne, came under scrutiny of the Home Ministry when he joined anti-nuclear activist S P Udayakumar to oppose the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. The organisation’s FCRA licence has been suspended since 2012 and bank accounts frozen.
Post-suspension, the human rights education programme conducted by People’s Watch in 22 States with the help of partners ground to a halt. “All cases in courts had to continue. But we had no resources to pay lawyers. We had writ petitions pending. Our staff quit. All our activities have come to a standstill,” said Mr Tiphagne.
“The Modi government is using the FCRA licence as a carrot-and-stick policy and indulging in micro-management,” charged Sudha Ramalingam, advocate and founder of Manonmani Trust, which runs a home for elderly destitute women. “If the government can roll out red carpet for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the corporate sector, what could be wrong with NGOs receiving foreign funds to improve education, health and agriculture for the poor,” asked Mr. Sesuraj.