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Paranoid at Home

Decision to scrap FCRA licences of leading institutions is a throwback to a more suspicious era

Written by The Indian Express |
September 4, 2012 2:15:53 am

Eight premier educational institutions,including IIT-Kanpur,Jamia Millia Islamia and JNU,head the list of 4,139 organisations that have lost their registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and can no longer receive overseas funding without permission from the home ministry. This is absurd because the ministry had itself exempted these organisations from the rigours of the FCRA last year. Since they are audited by the CAG,further scrutiny or compliance was deemed unnecessary. The home ministry is now in the embarrassing position of appearing ignorant of its own notification.

Funding from overseas is a form of foreign investment. Though non-commercial,it enables initiatives in development and research that can have profound commercial implications,apart from serving the public purpose in less quantifiable ways. There is no denying that a number of beneficiaries of such funds have not served the public interest,have stymied development and even sponsored sectarian and terrorist sentiment. But the government can easily identify and discourage such organisations on the basis of intelligence that it already has. Similarly,the ministry should be able to distinguish between questionable sources of funds and valid funding agencies like the Ford Foundation,the Rockefeller Foundation and DFID,which have an identifiable track record and are transparently audited in their home countries. The present manner of debarring organisations indiscriminately has the effect of projecting the home ministry as a throwback to the socialist era,a gatekeeper standing in the way of the foreign hand proffering a wad of presumably corrupting greenbacks. Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullapally Ramachandran told this paper,in ostensible justification for including PRS Legislative Research in its list: “We do not need foreign money to educate our MPs”.

Loss of FCRA registration does not completely debar organisations from receiving funds. However,it adds substantially to the mountain of paper that funding activities already generate. Apart from the headache,this increases project administrative costs,reducing the portion of funds available for application to the final beneficiaries. In other words,money allocated for doing good is diverted to compliance. Funding agencies rarely complain about the difficulties of working in India for fear of a backlash from the home ministry. They don’t have to complain. Absurdities like cancelling the FCRA registration of institutions of national importance make it abundantly clear that something is wrong.

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