Accusing the government’s actions to regulate Non-Governmental Organisations including the Ford Foundation and Greenpeace International of having a “chilling effect” on civil society, U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma, said that India and the U.S. must find an understanding over the issue. “I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India,” Ambassador Verma told an audience at Delhi based think-tank Ananta Aspen Centre.
Mr. Verma added, “Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our (Indian and US’s) democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs.” Mr. Verma’s remarks were from a prepared text, but he repeated them in a question and answer session that followed, adding that India and the US cannot avoid “hard questions” because of “political expediency”.
This is the fourth time the U.S. government is taking up the issue of strictures against NGOs in the past couple of weeks, ever since the Ministry of Home Affairs froze accounts of environmental NGO Greenpeace and directed Ford Foundation to submit all its funding for MHA clearance. Ford Foundation denies the charge that it funds organisations that lack clearance under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), and the Greenpeace management in India has told its staff to prepare for an imminent shutdown after strictures passed against it.
U.S. not buying clarifications
In April, the U.S. State department had criticised the decisions in a public statement, saying that it “was seeking clarifications from the government” over the actions against Ford foundation and Greenpeace. Last week Ambassador Verma had met his counterpart in the Ministry of External Affairs to express his concern, and subsequently visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman raised the issue with Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar during her meetings with him in Delhi. Ambassador Verma’s remarks on Wednesday, once again expressing “deep concern” indicate that the U.S. is not satisfied with the answers to the clarifications it had sought.
In his speech, Ambassador Verma also seemed to defend the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which is reportedly under the government’s scanner for funding a health NGO, in India. An MHA spokesperson denied the latest reports of action against the Gates foundation on Wednesday, but this isn’t the first time such reports have appeared. Speaking at the event Ambassador Verma praised the Gates foundation’s project in India to promote the ‘Rotovirus Vaccine’ that prevents diarrhoea amongst children as a “model of research collaboration”.
The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on Mr. Verma’s latest remarks on action against NGOs in India whose views the government might found “objectionable”. Last week, it had to issue a stern statement rejecting another body, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2015 report that had been particularly critical of India’s record on protecting minorities in the past year.