Already facing heat after cancellation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licence, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have now been told to appear before the Additional Chief Secretary or Principal Secretary (Home) of the state where it is located, after the Union Home Ministry designated both as “competent authorities” under section 15 of the Foreigners Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.
The move, officials said, is an outcome of cancellation of FCRA licences of more than 13,000 NGOs in the last three years. Earlier, a charity commissioner of a state used to look after assets and bank accounts of NGOs whose FCRA licence had been revoked.
“A charity commissioner was independent of the central government and was seen as a neutral body,” a senior official said.
Under the FCRA rules, an NGO, once its FCRA licence is cancelled, cannot use any unutilised foreign contribution in its custody without prior approval of the Centre. “Only up to 25 per cent of the unutilised amount may be spent, with prior approval of the Centre, for declared aims and objects for which the foreign contribution was received,” the official said.
In an order issued on November 5, Joint Secretary (Foreigners) Anil Malik stated: “…the Central government hereby prescribes the Additional Chief Secretary or Principal Secretary (Home) of the concerned state government or Union Territory (where the assets of the person whose registration has been cancelled under section 14 of the said Act are physically located), as competent authority for the purpose of section 15 of the said Act.”
Former additional solicitor general, Indira Jaising, whose NGO Lawyers Collective’s FCRA licence was revoked by Home Ministry in 2016, has described the move as “dangerous” and said there should be a judicial tribunal and an open court to deal with the matter.
“The Secretary (Home) does not perform judicial functions. The function of determining disputes is a judicial one, not political. The Secretary Home (of the state) is neither impartial nor a judicial tribunal. Hence, it is a wrong move intended to bring about a political outcome,” Jaising told The Indian Express. In January 2017, the Bombay high court ordered de-freezing of Jaising’s NGO domestic accounts after they were seized on the orders of MHA in 2016.
A Home Ministry official, however, said the decision to designate Additional Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (home) as “competent authorities” under the FCRA, 2010, was taken due to non-availability of charity commissioners in states and UTs.