The story so far: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on February 27 suspended the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registration of the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR) for 180 days, citing “prima facie violation of FCRA provisions”. The suspension means that the association will not be able to receive any fresh foreign donations or utilise existing foreign donations without the Ministry’s clearance.
In September last year, the Income Tax Department conducted a survey of CPR’s Delhi office as well as the premises of another think tank and a charity body. In a statement issued after the FCRA suspension, the think tank said it was “absolutely confident” that the matter would be resolved “speedily, in fairness and in the spirit of our constitutional values”.
How was CPR born and who are its members?
Former Planning Commission member and author Dr. V.A. Panandiker founded the multidisciplinary public policy think tank in 1973 “out of a degree of frustration”, according to Yamini Aiyar, the current President and Chief Executive of CPR. In a podcast in 2021, when CPR completed 48 years, she explained the founder’s concern that while the government rightfully remained busy responding to day-to-day policy challenges, its ability to be “reflective” and look at the “short term from the perspective of the long term” remained limited as a consequence.
Thus, she said, the CPR was founded to bring the thinking and capacity to determine the long-term consequences of policies to the state. The vision was to build a “robust policy response” in a multidisciplinary fashion, so that economists, sociologists, political scientists, and their varied perspectives could interact with each other.
According to its website, CPR is “a non-profit, non-partisan, independent institution dedicated to conducting research that contributes to high-quality scholarship, better policies, and a more robust public discourse.”
The think tank engages in “advanced and in-depth research” on a range of policy-relevant issues, works closely with policymakers and stakeholders like governments, non-profits, and grassroots groups, and conducts workshops and seminars with a focus on India’s 21st-century challenges.
CPR is one of 24 research institutes that receive assistance from the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) under the Union Ministry of Education, and is recognised by the Department of Science and Technology. According to an official statement released on March 1, after the 180-day suspension of its FCRA registration, CPR has partnered with several governments and grassroots organisations over five decades, including the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; Ministry of Rural Development; Ministry of Jal Shakti; and the Governments of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya, and Rajasthan, among others.
Former members of the CPR governing board include former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and late Chief Justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud, while the current board features names such as former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, former Ambassador Chandrasekhar Dasgupta, and political scientist and educationist Meenakshi Gopinath. Faculty members include former deputy editor of the Indian Express Sushant Singh, author and journalist Harish Damodaran, and former World Bank Economist Jishnu Das. Before Ms. Aiyar took over as the President of the think tank in 2017, academician and columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta was heading the organisation.
What are its areas of work?
The think-tank comes out with reports across policy areas such as economy, environment, climate change, air pollution, city planning, federalism, governance, social welfare schemes, land rights, social justice, health, public finance, energy, defence, international relations, and politics.Some of these projects are donor-funded and specific.
It has a set of research initiatives for both resident and visiting fellows. One of these is the accountability initiative under which CPR analyses the status, budget allocations, implementation, and gaps in government policies and schemes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), and PM-Poshan Shakti Nirman (formerly mid-day meal scheme). Other initiatives include the public policy and governance initiative, the land rights initiative, the climate, energy, and environment initiative, the scaling city institutions initiative, and the politics initiative.
Recent work by the think tank include an analysis of the country’s spending on social sector welfare schemes and on critical Ministries between 2008 and 2023, an analysis of election manifestos of parties since 1952, and a paper on developing effective asset monetisation models to help the government realise monetisation targets and generate revenue streams. Papers also cover issues like India’s climate and emissions pledges, border relations with China, and air pollution in Delhi.
The CPR website states that the “institution does not take a collective position” on issues and its scholars, including faculty, have “complete autonomy to express their individual views”.
Multiple faculty members have been vocal in the recent past about central government measures such as the Agnipath armed forces recruitment scheme, or the Prime Minister’s “revdi culture” remarks.
Where does it get its funds from?
CPR receives a recurring grant from the ICSSR, which forms a small part of its annual funding. The think tank routinely receives funds and grants from foreign contributors including the Australian and British High Commissions, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, the legal empowerment group Namati, the philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network Fund, Germany’s Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The list of Indian contributors, according to its 2021-22 Annual Report, includes project-specific and general grants from the Azim Premji Foundation, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Water Resources as well as the Governments of Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh. According to the report, the World Bank and UNICEF are also among major grantors.
When the Income Tax department surveyed the think tank’s office last year, CPR said in a statement that it had “all requisite approvals and sanctions, and is authorised by the government as a recipient under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act”.