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‘First port of call for many in pandemic’: NGOs urge Kovind not to give assent to FCRA Bill

FCRA regulates acceptance and utilisation of foreign funds by individuals, associations and companies.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi | September 25, 2020 1:52:49 am
The government says the proposed legislation is aimed at transparency, and not against NGOs. (File)

Criticising the way the FCRA amendment Bill was “rushed through”, and the way it “demonises” NGOs, several civil society organisations on Thursday urged President Ram Nath Kovind not to sign the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020.

The Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), an apex body of Indian NGOs, maintained that the Bill was passed “without proper deliberation and consultation”, while Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India (PFI), said it creates a negative perception of the NGO sector, which fears that once it becomes law, no government, irrespective of party, is likely to repeal it.

While the Bill “demonises NGOs’’, Muttreja said, “when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, NGOs were the first port of call for many, including the government”.

The government says the proposed legislation is aimed at transparency, and not against NGOs.

But calling the proposed law a “deathblow to civil society”, especially smaller organisations that work in remote areas, VANI CEO Harsh Jaitli pointed to lack of the discussions with stakeholders. “When FCRA was amended in 2010, the Home Ministry worked very closely with the NGO sector and held numerous discussions. This sort of a rushing through of a Bill, without a proper consultative process (involving stakeholders) and proper discussion in Parliament, does not serve any purpose,” he said.

“It will adversely affect the stakeholders and, as we have seen in the past when such Bills are passed without stakeholder involvement, can often lead to corruption,” Jaitli said.

FCRA regulates acceptance and utilisation of foreign funds by individuals, associations and companies.

PFI’s Muttreja said, “A lot of work that civil society organisations do are in consonance with the government, and (they) carry out projects for the government among last-mile communities which are difficult to reach. This kind of a Bill puts the relationship of NGOs and the government in jeopardy.”

According to VANI, FDI in India in 2018-19 was Rs 3,09,867 crore, and funds under FCRA were one-fifth of this.

Ingrid Srinath, director, Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ashoka University, said: “There are currently 21,490 recipient organisations (in India), 3,327 fewer than in 2012. There are 4,107 NGOs which reported receiving sub-grants last year, and which are likely to be affected. The amendment is not only atrociously ill-timed but also against international law.”

The government has cited ostensible misuse of funds for activities such as terror funding. But Hemal Kamat, director, Concept Society, which works with 150 women’s NGOs across Madhya Pradesh, said if the motive was to restrict fraudulent use of funds and contravention of rules, that could have been done under the present rules as well.

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