Proposed Foreign Contribution Bill raises the hackles of NGOs

R. Ilangovan

SALEM: Non-governmental organisations are wary of the Government's proposed Foreign Contribution (Management and Control) Bill 2005, a revised version of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 1976.

Raising concern over the reference to "anti-national activities" in the Bill, the NGOs say the term has not been defined and "will prevent civil society groups from exercising their democratic rights in this country."

"False charges"

"Appending such serious words in the objectives of the legislation and leaving it undefined will, as happened in the past, lead to a number of false charges being filed against organisations that are not in the good books of the Government," A. Renganathan, State Convenor, Social Action Movement -Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, told The Hindu here. The movement heads the nationwide campaign against the Bill. According to Home Ministry statistics, nearly half of the 30,000 NGOs registered under the FCRA have not filed their Foreign Contribution returns. This has led to apprehensions that the contributions could have been diverted for anti-national activities.

But NGO representatives say they cannot receive any foreign funds without the Home Ministry's permission. The Intelligence Bureau receives quarterly statements of receipts and utilisation of funds. The district Superintendents of Police closely watch their activities and receive periodic reports.

The Bill aims to consolidate the FCRA relating to the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution by individuals, associations or companies and to prohibit acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality for anti-national activities.

The NGOs also resent the proposal for a 30 per cent ceiling on administrative expenses which, they fear, will usher in `Inspector Raj.' The registration authority, they say, should be vested with the Central Government. There is also concern over the attempts to identify an "organisation of a political nature." This, NGOs say, will be misused against an organisation that works to protect fundamental rights, which invariably causes embarrassment to the administration.

On the provision for non-grant of registration certificate to an organisation that has a director or office-bearer facing prosecution for an offence, they say it is too general and there is every possibility of registration of "false cases" against groups and individuals fighting for social justice.

The NGOs, while demanding withdrawal of the Bill, have decided to form an expert committee to mobilise public and political opinion against it.