In a fresh crackdown, the Government of India on Tuesday cancelled the registration of 4,470 Non-Governmental Organisations, which bars them from receiving foreign funds. The decision to cancel the registration of these NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act has been taken by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) after examination of their activities that allegedly include non-filing of annual returns, among other irregularities. Some of the prominent NGOs, whose licence was cancelled, include the Supreme Court Bar Association, Escorts Hearts Institute, Panjab University, Gujarat National Law University, Vikram Sarabhai Foundation, among others. According officials in the MHA, all the above entities were given proper notices by its Foreigners Division, with adequate time to reply before their FCRA licences were cancelled.
This follows last month’s disclosures by the MHA that Indian NGOs had received funds through Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) channels to the tune of Rs 47,000 crore during the decade starting in 2002 and ending in 2012. The United States of America (USA) topped the list with Rs 20,000 crore worth of donations. It was only in April 2015, that the government had cancelled the licences of nearly 9,000 such entities for Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) violations. In that particular order, the MHA said notices were issued to 10,343 NGOs for not filing annual returns for the year 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. The notices were served way back on October 16, 2014, saying that NGOs should file their annual returns within a month, specify the sum of foreign funds received, sources of such funds, purpose for which it was received and the manner in which such foreign contributions were utilised. Without prompt replies from the erring NGOs, the Centre had cancelled all their registrations that were earlier issued under FCRA.
If the allegation of non-filing of annual returns hold water, one must welcome the government’s move. Foreign-funded entities that claim to represent social and environmental causes seem reluctant to disclose their funding pattern to the larger public. It is incumbent upon these NGOs to disclose their funding pattern to their larger audience. If indeed many of these NGOs do serve the public interest, there should be no hesitation on their part to disclose their annual returns like any other corporation. With many NGOs unwilling to share key financial details, we have strong reasons to believe that they are not genuine think-tanks or public service activists. One could argue instead that these NGOs are actually paid lobbyists of their foreign benefactors. Merely because they deem themselves to be “non-profit”, it does not mean that they do not have their own vested interests.