Days after the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registration of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) was suspended, the think tank’s officials said its donors include over 30 organisations in India and abroad, among them the Government of India.
A CPR functionary said that that its partnership with Namati, an international legal empowerment group, was not for filing litigation and legal complaints. Other than the FCRA suspension, the Income Tax (I-T) Department had in December 2022 sent a notice to CPR asking why its tax exemption status should not be cancelled. The I-T notice had sought CPR’s explanation on donations received from Namati, which it alleged were used to litigate and file cases.
Earlier, a survey was conducted by the I-T Department at the CPR’s office on September 7, 2022.
One of the donors of Namati, which has presence in the U.S, Kenya and Myanmar, is the Open Society Foundations (OSF), promoted by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. OSF was placed under a watchlist by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 2016, restricting it from sending donations to NGOs. The OSF moved the Delhi High Court in 2020, challenging the MHA’s decision. The case is pending.
“There have been allegations that CPR is involved in undertaking litigation and activism through one of its environmental projects. This is a baseless claim. CPR’s partnership with Namati is not to file litigation and legal complaints. It is to conduct research into the functioning of administrative processes set up for environmental monitoring. The project involves educational activities to build public understanding of environmental procedures and institutions. These research and educational activities are undertaken by trained community workers,” an official of the CPR said. The official added that CPR’s work in environmental justice is based on research specific contracts with Namati, and all collaborations and partnerships are related to this research work alone. Publications emanating from this work are available in the public domain.
With the suspension of its FCRA registration, the leading public policy advocacy group will not be able to receive foreign donations. The MHA on February 27 suspended the registration for 180 days. The order, accessed by The Hindu, states that CPR is registered as an association for undertaking educational programmes and it has violated provisions on three counts.
The Ministry said that it had been brought to its notice that “the association is receiving and utilising FC (foreign contribution) for purposes other than that for which it is registered, and the association is utilising FC for undesirable purposes” — a violation of Section 8 of the Act and conditions of registration under Section 12(4)(a)(vi) of the Act. Section 8 of the Act pertains to “restriction to utilise foreign contribution for administrative purpose”.
The second alleged violation is that the association has transferred foreign contributions to other entities in violation of Section 7 of the Act, and deposited foreign contributions in undesignated accounts in violation of Section 17 of the Act. The third alleged violation is that the “association is also reported to be publishing news articles in violation of section 3 of the Act”.
The official from CPR added, “CPR’s voice is solely that of its scholars; its positions are diverse and represent views across the spectrum. There is no question of CPR abdicating its voice to partisanship or the direction of its research.”
The official said that questions raised about books published by CPR and the “commercial” nature of its activities is a complete mischaracterisation of the role and charter of a research institution. “In 2022 alone, CPR published 39 policy briefs, 31 peer reviewed journal articles, 10 working papers, four book chapters and one book. This is the core purpose of education and research, and the institution’s work is in alignment with this purpose. In the spirit of its charitable status, CPR does not claim any ownership rights on the books or seek to draw any financial benefits. Its purpose is to contribute knowledge to society at large, not charge for it,” the official said.
The December 2022 I-T notice to CPR had alleged that the association has made payments to persons who have not filed their personal I-T returns. “All payments made by CPR are bona fide and it has duly complied with the provisions of the law, which mandate it to cut TDS (tax deducted at source) from payments, as applicable,” the official said.
There is no one single major benefactor of CPR, nor is CPR a single-issue institution, the official said. “The centre has over 30 funders from India, including the Government of India, and abroad. The entire range of funders and partners are listed on our website and are in our annual reports. The CPR is a member of the Indian Council of Social Science Research and is also recognised by the Department of Science and Technology,” the official said.