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Saturday, May 19, 2012

100 NGOs banned from receiving Foreign Funds

The government has frozen accounts of 30 NGOs and banned 70 other voluntary organisations from receiving foreign contribution following allegation of violation of laws.
Minister of State for Home Mullappally Ramachandran told Rajya Sabha that 24 such cases have been referred to the CBI while seven other cases have been given to state police for investigation.

"Accounts of 30 NGOs have been frozen, 35 NGOs have been placed in prior permission category and 70 NGOs have been prohibited from receiving foreign contribution," he said.

The Minister said a total of Rs 9,946.91 crore was received as foreign contribution by various non-governmental organisations in 2007-08 and Rs 10,993.56 crore was received as foreign contribution by the NGOs in 2008-09.

Rs 10,352.07 crore was received by various NGOs as foreign contribution during 2009-10, he said.

Ugly truths of NGO funding: Helping hand vs Foreign hand

Leaning across the spotless coffee table in his office that overlooks a leafy street, The Donor lays his cards bare: "We support risks. For us, and our money, failure is not a deterrent. But Indians, corporates or individuals, haven't quite fathomed the art of giving."

He should know. A grant-maker from one of the top foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that pump in money in India and abroad, The Donor avers that unless and until the corporate sector and the high networth individuals (HNIs) move out of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) comfort zones, civil society activity in India will have to depend on foreign funds.

Well, tell that to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, these days really wary of the "foreign hand that feeds dissent" against some of the key projects.

Fact & Fission

The spectre of "foreign hand", an omnipresent, engaging shadow in Indian politics since the 1960s, was raised afresh last week when the generally soft-spoken Dr Singh put the heebie-jeebies into India's bustling civil society sector through some casual remarks.

In one of his rare interviews, he told the US-based Science magazine that rich NGOs from the US and Scandinavian nations were behind the protests that are stalling the setting up of two more reactors at the nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu.

"They are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces," he said. "But we are a democracy, we are not like China," the PM added for good measure. The official machinery took the cue, and Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA) licences of four NGOs active in the Kudankulam area were promptly revoked. This raised fresh fears of a crackdown on NGOs that refuse to toe the government line.

As for the US, White House was quite unequivocal. "We are supportive as a government of India's investment in civil nuclear power... Our NGO support goes for development and it goes for democracy programmes," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Thursday. The debate in India, as it stands, is on just how kosher the dollars are.

Land's End

It's ironical that Kudankulam, a sleepy fishing-village with a population of around 11,000, should find itself in the middle of a raging global debate on the future and safety of nuclear energy. For starters, it is also one of India's petri dishes for wind energy projects, with a handful of wind turbines dotting even the nuclear plant compound.

To be fair, the village has been on the boil since 1988 when Samathuva Samudaya Iyakkam (Social Equality Movement) got people from three districts, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Tuticorin, to come together for a massive rally against the nuclear plant. But that was against the diversion of water from the local Pechiparai Dam, the only source of water in this arid landscape, to the nuclear plant.

Today, it's the safety concerns that have the locals up in arms, safety of human lives, as well as their livelihood, the marine life, with the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan upping the fear quotient further.

We the People?

Well, the government of India wouldn't buy that. It believes unsuspecting locals are being led on the Singur-Nandigram path by foreign hands with ideological, often ulterior, motives. It wants Indian civil society to behave, and not be carried away by the prejudices of those far-removed, and far more secure.

In fact, for around a year now, the Centre has been breathing down the neck of NGOs that operate multiple bank accounts, fail to submit receipt and expenditure documents, and divert money to undisclosed causes. The home ministry plans to take action against NGOs registered under FCRA that have failed either to procure foreign money or submit utilisation details. That'd mean around 10,000 "non-serious" NGOs being thrown out of the FCRA umbrella as early as next month.

Yup, We the People!

Civil society feels the government shouldn't lose sleep over who funds whom and why, so long as the activities on the ground don't jeopardise national security. Deep Joshi, Magsaysay winner and member of Sonia Gandhi-chaired National Advisory Council, would want the government to first go and have a look at the mirror.

"I want to ask a more fundamental question. Isn't the FCRA itself an archaic one, since foreign companies can easily bring money to India? Is the government scrutinising those companies?" he asks. Indian NGOs netted a little above Rs 80,000 crore by way of foreign infusion in the past 10 year, twice as much of what the central government earmarks for NREGA, its flagship poverty alleviation programme, every year.

Yet, this forms an important component since most of that aid are not tied grants, unlike what corporates or HNIs give. That helps NGOs to prioritise work that suits local necessities, than cast a wider net on larger social goals with little local impact.

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