Foreign donor — Open Society Foundations (OSF) — promoted by billionaire philanthropist George Soros has moved the Delhi High Court against the Centre’s decision to place it under a “watch list” for funding NGOs and associations that are not registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
Any NGO that expects to receive foreign funds has to mandatorily register under the FCRA.
The OSF moved the court days before Mr. Soros criticised the Narendra Modi government at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos citing its actions in the Kashmir Valley and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 as the “biggest and most frightening setback” to the survival of open societies worldwide.
The foreign donor was put under the watch list or “prior permission” category in 2016 but it moved the High Court only this month. Through its plea, the OSF sought to know the reasons for which it was placed under the list and why no prior notice was served to them.
Following the plea, the Delhi High Court issued notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the RBI on January 10. Justice Rajiv Shakdher asked the MHA and the RBI to respond within two weeks and fixed March 12 as the next date of hearing.
Jonathan Birchall, lead communications officer, OSF, stated “The Open Society Foundations confirm the filing of a petition in the Delhi High Court. The Open Society Foundations respect the wisdom and independence of the court and will be making no further statement on the matter.”
OSF’s website says legal advocacy groups supported by it and other international funders have played a vital role in safeguarding India’s intellectual property laws, enabling the production and marketing of generic, lower-cost versions of new lifesaving medicines.
It added that since 1999, more than 650 students have received scholarships from Open Society to attend some of India’s top colleges and universities.
In 2016, the MHA placed two other influential U.S.-based donors — the World Movement for Democracy (WMD) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — under scrutiny following adverse intelligence inputs. The restriction means the donors are not allowed to directly send money to NGOs or associations without a clearance from the MHA. The MHA writes to the RBI which then asks banks to alert any transaction to the accounts of the beneficiary NGOs from the foreign donors and seek prior clearance from MHA before the funds are released.
There are more than 20 foreign donors under the government’s scanner right now. Of these, eight were put under the prior-permission category during the UPA government and 13 after the Modi government came to power in 2014. The U.S.-based Ford Foundation, which was also put under this category in 2015, was taken off the list days before Mr. Modi was to visit Washington the same year.
As of now there are around 20,000 NGOs registered under the FCRA. Registration certificates of around 14,500 associations were cancelled for various violations and non-filing of returns from 2014-19.