Enforcement of FCRA in “national or public interest” curtailed the work of civil society in India

US-State-Department

An excerpt from the US 2017 Human Rights Report for India, published by the US Department of State:

In a statement released in June 2016, UN special rapporteurs on human rights expressed the view that Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) “provisions were increasingly being used…to silence organizations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental, or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the [g]overnment.” The statement highlighted the suspension of foreign banking licenses for NGOs including Greenpeace India, Lawyers Collective, and the Sabrang Trust. In May, HRW urged UN member countries to call on India to stop targeting NGOs and others who criticized the government or its policies.

There were restrictions on the organization of international conferences. Authorities required NGOs to secure approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs before organizing international conferences. Authorities routinely granted permission, although in some cases the approval process was lengthy. Some human rights groups claimed this practice provided the government with tacit control over the work of NGOs and constituted a restriction on freedoms of assembly and association.

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected that right, the government’s increased regulation of NGO activities that receive foreign funding has caused concern. In certain cases, for example, the government required “prior approval” for some NGOs to receive foreign funds, and in other instances canceled or declined to renew FCRA registrations. According to media reports, the government took action to suspend foreign banking licenses or freeze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without the proper clearances or illegally combined foreign and domestic funding streams. Some human rights organizations claimed these actions were sometimes used to target specific NGOs.

In March the NGO Compassion International, which had been placed on the government’s prior approval list, closed its operations due to the inability to transfer funds to its implementing partners. The human rights NGO the Lawyer’s Collective was unable to reregister after its FCRA registration was cancelled in 2016. According to media reports, on April 10, the Ministry of Home Affairs also cancelled the license of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a public health advocacy group. The PHFI filed a request with the government for reinstatement of its license, which continued under government review at year’s end.

In July, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told parliament’s lower house more than 1,000 NGOs were barred from receiving foreign aid after they were found to have “misutilized” such funds. He said more than 2,000 NGOs have been asked to validate their existing bank accounts designated for receiving funds from abroad. All organizations that received financial aid from abroad must be registered under FCRA.

NGOs continued to express concern regarding the government’s enforcement of the FCRA, provisions of which bar some foreign-funded NGOs from engaging in activities the government believed were not in the “national or public interest,” curtailing the work of some civil society organizations. Some NGOs expressed concern over politically motivated enforcement of the law to intimidate organizations that address social issues or criticize the government or its policies, arguing that the law’s uses of broad and vague terms such as “public interest” and “national interest” have left it open to abuse. Some multi-national and domestic companies also stated in some instances the law made it difficult to comply with government-mandated corporate social responsibility obligations due to lengthy and complicated registration processes.

Experts also reported that it was increasingly difficult to secure FCRA registrations for new NGOs. Although the law imposes a limit of 90 days for application processing, FCRA applications were sometimes pending months longer.

In April 2016 the UN special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association published a legal analysis asserting that the FCRA did not conform to international law, principles, and standards. In June 2016 the UN special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association called on the government to repeal the FCRA.

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances groups faced restrictions. Government officials were generally responsive to NGO requests. There were more than three million NGOs in the country advocating for social justice, sustainable development, and human rights. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took action in response to their reports or recommendations. The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs. Several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Human rights monitors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them at times.

Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

On July 10, the Supreme Court rejected the relief plea of activists Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand, and their colleagues associated with Citizens for Justice and Peace from charges of corruption and misappropriation of funds. Police authorities in Gujarat charged the activists with embezzling 1.5 million rupees ($24,000) collected to build a memorial to victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots. The activists alleged authorities filed the case in retaliation for their work on behalf of the riot victims.

*Click HERE to read full report

 


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