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MHA removes Ford Foundation from watch list

On Wednesday, the Home Ministry wrote to the Reserve Bank of India to remove the international NGO from a “watch list” it was placed under last year, sources said.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: March 20, 2016 2:47:38 am
Ramdas wrote in the email that the government was “particularly displeased” about the grants and that it would take a long time for the foundation to normalise relations. The international NGO was also put on the Home Ministry’s watch list in the interest of “national security”.

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit, Ministry of Home Affairs has decided to remove Ford Foundation from the “prior permission” category. On Wednesday, the Home Ministry wrote to the Reserve Bank of India to remove the international NGO from a “watch list” it was placed under last year, sources said.

In March last year, the Gujarat government had complained to the MHA that the Ford Foundation funded “anti-India” activities of activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGOs — Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace — and requested that the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) registration of the two NGOs be cancelled.

In April 2015, the MHA put the Ford Foundation under the “prior approval category”, which meant that all funds from the organisation to recipients in India would have to be cleared by the government. The international NGO was also put on the Home Ministry’s watch list in the interest of “national security”.

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The Home Ministry order said that all funds coming from the Ford Foundation have to be routed only after its nod due to “national security concerns” and that it has decided to keep a watch on all activities funded by the US-based NGO.

The latest order from the Home Ministry, however, means that banks will not have to seek the ministry’s clearance to process foreign contributions coming from the foundation to any Indian bank account.

The Home Ministry’s climbdown follows diplomatic pressure on the government, as well as the Ford Foundation complying with the condition of registering itself under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999.

The Ford Foundation, which had been operating in India since 1952, was not registered as an NGO or any other category such as under the Indian Society Act. After applying under FEMA, its branch office was registered by the RBI in December last year.

In May last year, US ambassador to India Richard Verma expressed “concern” over the “potentially chilling effects” of the regulatory steps taken against NGOs in the country. His comments came against the backdrop of the regulatory action taken against several NGOs, including the Ford Foundation. Representatives of Ford Foundation also met Nripendra Misra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, on several occasions to put forth their position on the issue.

In a softening of its stand, the Home Ministry had last year unblocked foreign funds to the tune of $1,50,000 to be released to Ford Foundation’s bank accounts after the organisation was unable to pay salary to its staff.

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