Months after its clampdown on the U.S.-based Ford Foundation, the Centre has unblocked foreign funds totalling $150,000 to be released to the foreign donor’s bank accounts. The Union Home Ministry put the foundation under the “prior permission” category in April in the interest of “national security”.
In what is being seen as a softening of stand against the powerful international non-governmental organisation, the Ministry gave it the go-ahead to release funds as the organisation made a plea to the government after exhausting its options even to pay salaries.
The foundation’s representatives recently met Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and explained their position.
Since the foundation is not registered as an NGO in India, it was asked to register itself under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999, if it intended to receive foreign funds in its accounts.
The NGO was put on the government’s watch list after the Gujarat government, in its report to the Union Home Ministry in March, said it funded “anti-India” activities of Teesta Setalvad’s two NGOs — Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sabrang Trust.
Gujarat’s Minister of State for Home Rajnikant Patel had said that the foundation donated more than $5 lakh to Ms. Setalvad’s NGOs.
“We decided to unblock funds so that their staffers here in India could be paid their salaries. They also agreed to register themselves under FEMA,” a senior Home Ministry official said.
In May, U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Rahul Verma expressed “concern” at the “potentially chilling effects” of the regulatory steps taken against NGOs here.
“We have not buckled under any kind of pressure. We have only released the salary component. They continue to be on the government’s watch list,” the Ministry official said.
The foundation had earlier argued for continuation of the practice under which it was allowed to operate merely on the basis of an understanding with the Department of Economic Affairs.
The unblocking of foreign funds would mean that it would be able to receive money in its American Express and Citibank accounts.