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Modi government tightens grip on NGOs with recast rules

The NDA government on Wednesday pulled the noose around foreign-funded NGOs tighter as it proposed new rules that would require banks to report every transaction made by these organisations within 48 hours.
By Aloke Tikku | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2015 01:29 AM IST

The NDA government on Wednesday pulled the noose around foreign-funded NGOs tighter as it proposed new rules that would require banks to report every transaction made by these organisations within 48 hours.

Additionally, NGOs will have to pledge that the money won’t be used for activities that go against national, public, security, strategic, scientific or economic interest — with the government retaining the right to interpret what these would construe.

“These phrases are so arbitrary, this declaration could be abused to target organisations that voice any form of dissent on critical issues... It is completely unacceptable,” said Anjali Bhardwaj of Satark Nagrik Sangathan, a civil society group that promotes transparency and accountability in governance.

The home ministry’s latest move comes in the wake of a series of actions against civil society groups, including the offloading in January of Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from a flight to London, where she was headed to campaign against the Mahan coal blocks. The ministry had called Pillai anti-national to defend its decision.

But the Delhi high court had rejected the interpretation, holding that the government could not muzzle criticism even if it was not palatable. Furthermore, in a separate case, the court had allowed Greenpeace to operate two domestic bank accounts frozen by the government as part of a crackdown on NGOs for allegedly misreporting foreign aid.

here are close to 30,000 associations registered in the country under the ministry-administered Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The proposed rules will apply to them when they seek renewal of registration over the next year.

In a circular issued Wednesday, home ministry official AK Dhyani suggested the changes were being carried out only to improve the existing system of receipt of requests for registration and renewal under the UPA-era law.

But the proposed changes do a lot more. It requires banks to inform the home ministry within 48 hours of any foreign funds being deposited or withdrawn from any FCRA-linked account of a non-governmental organisation, irrespective of the sum involved.

The ministry has also replaced the two-page form NGOs need to fill to renew their FCRA registration with one that runs into more than four pages. In this new form, an NGO also has to declare if its office-bearers are associated with any other NGOs, details that will help the security establishment profile them. For example, now the ministry also wants to know about the NGO’s Facebook page or Twitter handle.

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