The Centre cut down the number of NGOs registered to receive foreign funding by one-fourth in the last one year, shortening the list to 33,500. But it is technology, not ideology, that is driving the crackdown.
More than 10,000 NGOs lost their licence for not filing their annual declaration of money received under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010.
Lawyers Collective, which lost its FCRA registration this week is an exception to this pattern. Like Greenpeace India, it came under the government’s scanner after it spoke out against the government or its policies.
The 2010 FCRA law requires NGOs to declare how much money they have received from abroad each year. The tax returns need to be submitted even if no money has been received in a particular year.
Many of these NGOs didn’t file their returns but managed to retain their registration as the ministry was never too sure if its own records were in order.
For instance, when the ministry first tried to purge NGOs that hadn’t filed their returns in 2005-2006, they were left red-faced as hundreds of NGOs turned up with proof that the government had goofed up. After that incident, a group of young officers at the ministry were tasked to put their house in order.
The first step was to computerise its operations and create an e-database of registered NGOs. If an NGO filed its returns, it was to reflect in this database. Though not a perfect system, it was a precursor to the online registration system made mandatory last year, requiring NGOs to file returns online.
After the new government came in, the ministry again sent out notices to over 10,000 NGOs. Only 229 NGOs responded. The ministry decided to spare them till it examined their representation and cancelled the registration of the rest. A ministry official said the exercise to scrub the list of registered NGOs will continue. Of the remaining 33,000 entities registered under the FCRA, official said there were another 10,000 that had not been filing their returns and will face action.