Regulate foreign funded NGOs
The United States government has no business to be concerned about how India’s Ministry of Home Affairs reacts to undesirable activities of foreign-funded Non-government Organisations (NGOs) that hurt the country’s social objectives, economic progress and development. The US State Department’s latest reaction to the suspension of Greenpeace India and the Indian government’s decision to put the Ford Foundation on a ‘prior watch list’ is unwarranted. By stating that it is “concerned about the difficulties caused to (India’s) civil society organisations by the manner in which the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA) has been applied” the US State Department is clearly interfering into India’s domestic affairs.
In the last 20 years, foreign organisations – from diehard religious to environment crusaders – have officially pumped into their so-called Indian NGOs funds of the order of $40 billion or more. Since 2008-09, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government practically lost control of the economy with financial scams unfolding at regular intervals, foreign funding of Indian NGOs started scaling new heights, worth over Rs. 10,000 crore per year, trying to stall large core and infrastructure projects and to increase religious activities. In 2013-14, well over Rs.11,000 crore worth of foreign money allegedly funded NGOs under the FCRA Act. There are some 41,000 registered foreign-funded NGOs in India. Additionally, some 22,000 other NGOs operate independently with several of them having illegal access to foreign funds. Under the FCRA, the government has every right to ensure that foreign-funded domestic NGOs operate within the existing parameters of the government’s policies.
In 1993, when India opened up its economy, the number of registered foreign-funded NGOs was around 15,000. And, they officially received annual foreign donations worth about Rs.1,900 crore. A large number of NGOs in various parts of the country are linked with religious organisations with many known to be receiving unofficial funds from certain parts of the world. Unfortunately, the government, until recently, did little to investigate the flow of such illegal funds and book their recipients under the existing laws. Last March, the government banned only some 69 NGOs, mostly based in South India, for “unhealthy” activities. However, the latest available report says the government has cancelled the registration of as many as 9,000 NGOs. Post-cancellation, none of these NGOs will be able to seek foreign donations or access their bank account to utilise the sum received through foreign contributions. The number still looks small considering the proliferation of foreign-funded NGOs, as well as clandestinely outside funded others in the last 10 years.
Thus, the latest US reaction to the government action against some of the NGOs is quite surprising considering the fact that several foreign-funded NGOs or non-profit private organisations serving the civil society in India have always received tremendous public and government support, irrespective of the political divide that exists between the centre and states. These NGOs are always most wanted and welcomed in the country by all concerned -- the deprived section, students, intellectuals and political leaders alike. In fact, several of them, and many from the US such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, are doing an extremely creditable job and working with the government as well as NGOs and non-profit organisations for the benefit of the Indian society and its poor. The civil society and the central and state governments – irrespective of their political affiliations – have embraced them appreciating their extraordinary gestures.
For example, the Gates (Bill & Melinda) Foundation, already working in India through NGOs to fight diseases like AIDS, has lately partnered India’s Department of Biotechnology to harness the power of domestic innovation in the service of the country’s most vulnerable communities. They have put up a ‘Grand Challenge’ that will help ensure that children, no matter where they are born, have the opportunity to survive, thrive and fulfill their potential. The ‘All Children Thriving Funds’ for seed grants are $500,000 for up to two years (2016) and full grants are $2.5 million up to four years (2019). The Foundation’s effort will focus on innovative tools and approaches that seek to drastically alter India’s public health landscape. The present NDA-led government is fully supporting the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
On April 15, another US charity of international fame, Rockefeller Foundation, boasting century-old contribution to humanity, launched ‘Smart Power for Rural development’ aiming to bring electricity to 1,000 remote Indian villages covering about one million population living in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, over the next three years. The project has the blessings of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his colleagues in charge of the union ministries of power and rural development, as also of the opposition chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish Kumar, respectively. The Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin said she was “thrilled” to launch such a project.”Every step towards increasing rural access to modern energy sources can help India reach its full economic potential,” she said. The chief executive of Smart Power India, the non-profit organisation implementing the project, Jaideep Mukherjee added that it aimed to promote economic development in rural areas by providing access to reliable energy from green sources. The project is backed by a large fund commitment of $75 million from the Rockefeller Foundation. India’s poor and civil society need such NGOs. Smart Power India has big, sustainable programme to support small and micro-enterprises in those villages. Unfortunately, many Indian NGOs operate more as branches of overseas fund providers and follow their India plans and objectives – openly or subtly – that go against the country’s democratic principles and secular ethos. A large number of these NGOs don’t even care to file returns to the government in time or for years. No society can put up with or permit such organisations. The earlier such NGOs are identified and deregistered, the better it is to the interest of the civil society.