Minister of State (Home Affairs) Kiren Rijiju has said that the NDA government was concerned about “national interest” and not by “what USA said” after US Ambassador to India Richard Verma termed the regulatory steps taken against certain NGOs, including Ford Foundation, as “potentially chilling”.
Rijiju told The Indian Express that though Verma was the US Ambassador, “one should not overreact on a subject where government has not gone out of (the) provisions of law”.
“There is no witchhunt against NGOs and there were laxities on part of the government in the previous regime in the implementation of laws,” he said.
Over the past few months, the Home Ministry has cancelled the Foreign Contribution Regulatory Authority (FCRA) registration of Greenpeace, and put 16 foreign donors including Ford Foundation on its watchlist and cancelled the registration of 8,975 NGOs for violating norms.
Asked about the charge against Ford Foundation — whether it knew that two NGOs belonging to social activist Teesta Setalvad were allegedly using its funds for “spreading communal propaganda” — Rijiju said, “They are liable. They are the source. Ford should have put the stipulation (on the two Teesta NGOs)… that money must be used for the purpose for which it has been granted. Do not divert the money for a particular purpose.”
Rijiju said that “whatever action” has been taken against NGOs was “based on the actions of the NGOs itself”.
“If the NGOs react in a manner prescribed in the rules and the conditions, there is no reason for the Home Ministry to place any restrictions on them. All NGOs should conduct themselves in conformity with provisions of law,” he said.
Asked specifically about Greenpeace, Rijiju said, “I don’t want to name anybody. If anybody violates law, it is incumbent upon the Government of India to act. And it is also incumbent upon NGOs to follow norms. The responsibility and onus is on both. We should also not act on anything which is ultra vires (beyond its power) and the NGOs also should not act in a way which is illegal.”
The Minister also dismissed criticism that the BJP-led government was going after the NGOs. “There is no stated policy of BJP to go after NGOs, we are just following rules and laws. May be, there were laxities on the part of the government in the previous regime. We cannot afford to be loose in terms of implementation of law,” he said.
Rijiju said that international criticism that followed the government’s action “does not matter”.
“Our national interest is supreme. We honour the international commitment, we are not oblivious of international issues. Our mandate is we do not go against international conventions when we are signatories. But in the context of NGOs there are laid-down guidelines,” he said.
“When you are registered under FCRA, you have to file returns, if not inform the MHA why it has not been done. You are still supposed to inform the status of annual returns. If you have received funds from foreign donors, you must use that money for the purpose for which it has been funded,” Rijiju said, adding that there was no proposal to amend the FCRA Act.