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Curbs on NGOs come in for flak

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Three UN special rapporteurs on Thursday expressed alarm over the Modi government’s crackdown on NGOs.

Three UN special rapporteurs on Thursday expressed alarm over the Modi government’s crackdown on NGOs, adding to growing international criticism of India’s stand on foreign funding of the voluntary sector.

“We are alarmed that FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government,” said the independent experts and UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights Michel Forst, David Kaye, and Maina Kiai, according to a statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva on Thursday.

Legal group targetted

The statement on the UN body website came specifically in response to the government’s move to suspend the registration under the FCRA of Lawyers Collective, the NGO run by lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover earlier this month. “We strongly urge the Government to reverse its decision and embrace the invaluable contribution of the two prominent human rights defenders in upholding constitutional values in India,” the statement went on to say, adding several “procedural irregularities” existed and “detailed evidence” proving the NGO’s innocence had been ignored by the government.

Significantly, the statement alleged that the government “targeted” Lawyers Collective because of the NGO’s assistance to Teesta Setalvad and the Sabrang Trust, funded by the Ford Foundation, whose registration was also cancelled by the government on Thursday.

MEA passes buck

When asked for a response on the various critical comments, MEA sources would only say that FCRA issues are dealt with by Ministry of Home Affairs, not by the MEA. Meanwhile, keeping up the pressure over the government’s actions against American NGOs, U.S. Congressmen have sent another letter asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “instruct the MHA to withdraw” its orders against child welfare organisation Compassion International.

Advocacy group crippled

In a letter addressed to the Indian Embassy in Washington and copied to the Prime Minister, three Congressmen and a senator from Colorado, where Compassion International is headquartered, said the action, putting funding for the Christian advocacy group on a “prior referral” basis, was crippling the NGO’s working.

Calling on Mr Modi to “demonstrate his unequivocal support for India’s constitutional protections”, the signatories, including Senator Cory Gardner, Representatives Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton said the matter was “urgent”, and that their delegation had met the Indian Embassy in Washington on May 25 ahead of Mr Modi’s visit. MHA officials confirmed that they had received the letter dated June 7 from the US legislators. "We have received a letter on Compassion International, we are examining it. There is no bar on it to send funds, it's only that it has been put under prior permission list and will have to inform us before every transaction,” a senior home ministry official told The Hindu.

The U.S. government is in talks with at least four groups that have been put under government strictures, including Mercy Corps, Compassion International, National Endowment for Democracy and a climate change group in order to document their cases, sources told The Hindu. They are next expected to bring the four cases up with the Indian government as well, possibly adding to the pressure on the Indian government to revise its policy on funding for NGOs, and on the issue of human rights. The letter from the Congressmen follows other similar pleas for intervention by Mr Modi.

In February 2016, 34 senior lawmakers had written a letter to him asking him to protect the “Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities” in the country, and in May, several US government officials and Congressmen had raised concerns over “religious freedom” in India in the wake of a Congressional report critical of the government’s record. “One of the concerns we have raised with our counterparts in India is the regulatory and legal framework that seeks to constrain the activities of civil society organisations,” US assistant secretary of State Nisha Biswal, the top official dealing with India had told a Senate foreign relations committee last month.

(With inputs from Vijaita Singh)

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 4:36:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Curbs-on-NGOs-come-in-for-flak/article14426067.ece

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