Sweeping changes in the rules to enforce the law governing foreign contributions can make it easier for the government to put advocacy groups on a tight leash.
Easily branded as having a political nature, they will have to run to the home ministry every time they want to receive foreign funds. The rules drafted by the ministry cover NGOs that comment on “political activities” and “habitually” employ common methods of political action.
Last year, Parliament enacted the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act which, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) complained, was too restrictive since it made it mandatory for them to register every five years.
“What we needed were rules to facilitate the sector and address the government’s concerns,” said Harsh Jaitli, CEO of Voluntary Network Association of India, an umbrella body for civil society organisations.
Defending actions of political nature, Jaitli said, “These are standard tools for expressing unhappiness which are peaceful and constitutional.”
This definition gives local officials — inconvenienced by campaigns for accountability — a tool to hit back with, said Rajesh Tandon, head, Society for Participatory Research in Asia, that works in backward areas, including the Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh.
Ratna Viswanathan, director (operations) at Oxfam-India, agreed, saying such provisions expanded the scope for misuse.
She said a stipulation that an organisation receiving foreign funds and wanting to disburse them further would need to seek permission each time. “It is going to be very difficult.”