HARASSMENT: The harassment of minorities extends to both Muslim and even leading Hindu liberal education institutions like the Jamia Islamia University and the Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi.
By Mekhala Saranvakasha Sachdev
It’s not only the license for the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) of the Missionaries of Charity that have been cancelled, but also of prestigious national and international institutions like Oxfam and the Jamia Milia Islamia which have not been renewed.
For nearly 6,000 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) across the country, 2022 began with terrible news: their Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations had lapsed. This meant foreign funds, necessary for day-to-day work and charitable endeavours, had either been snipped off or locked out of reach. Before Saturday, 1 January, 22,762 NGOs were registered under the FCRA, as per news agency PTI. The website of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) shows that the number has now come drastically down to 16,829. he list of organisations whose FCRA registration has lapsed include Jamia Milia Isamia, Oxfam India, and even Indian Medical Association (IMA). This announcement comes only a few days after the MHA refused to renew the FCRA licence of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
What is FCRA Registration and Who Can Register?
The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) was originally enacted in 1976 to regulate the inflow of money from abroad into the country. In 2010, the old law was repealed and a new FCRA was enacted. Under the FCRA, there are certain categories of persons who cannot receive foreign contributions (including cash donations and even gifts of a certain value) under any circumstances: election candidates, the editors or publisher of newspapers, judges, public servants, members of Parliament and state legislatures, and even political parties.
Organisations which do charitable work can receive foreign contributions if they register with the government or obtain prior permission for receipt of foreign funds.
Why is an FCRA Registration Important?
FCRA registration is necessary for the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contributions. In fact, it is mandatory for all associations, groups, and NGOs, which intend to receive foreign donations, to register themselves under the FCRA. If granted, an FCRA registration lasts for five years, and can be renewed at the end of it. In such cases, there is no need for the organisation to apply for a fresh registration each time the period ends, as a simple renewal will suffice.
If the licence lapses or is revoked, not only will the organisation be compelled to abstain from receiving foreign funds in the future, but they will also have to relinquish access to the funds already received from foreign sources. For instance, as per a report by The Hindu: Oxfam India — an organisation that works for economic and gender justice among Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims — stands to lose access to over Rs62 crore in its designated bank account. Some of the organisation’s biggest donors are Oxfam, Australia, Oxfam, Germany, Oxfam, Great Britain, and Stichting Oxfam International, Netherlands
So, What Happened With Nearly 6,000 NGOS?
Media reports have quoted MHA officials as stating that the ministry declined to renew the FCRA registration of 179 NGOs. Further, as per the reports, 5,789 others did not apply for a renewal before the 31-December deadline.
Meanwhile, the MHA official has claimed they are “processing the request of other NGOs who have applied, and due to the pendency, an extension was given till March.” But there were also a slew of reasons that may have kept a multitude of NGOs from completing the renewal process.
These include the 2020’s amendments to the Act, which prohibited those who have an FCRA registration from transferring foreign-sourced funds to any other persons/organisations, as well as made it mandatory for every FCRA-registered organisation to have a specific FCRA account at a State Bank of India branch in Delhi for receiving their funds.
What Now? What Next?
When it comes to registrations and renewals, much of the process is unwritten, people who work on these matters explained to The Quint.
The process for both takes a long time, and applicants try to work with the MHA and other ministries to ensure that their applications are accepted and any issues resolved. The refusal to renew a registration is different from a cancellation or even a suspension of an FCRA registration, as it does not require a violation of the FCRA. Unlike refusal of registration or cancellation of licence, there is also no specific appeal process under the FCRA.
However, since the government is supposed to provide reasons for this, it does mean that it is possible to file a writ petition in a court of law against this decision – though experts advise that this is unlikely to help unless there has been some gross misapplication of the law by the government.= The most logical option is, therefore, likely to be to just file a fresh application for FCRA registration. Although perception-wise a refusal to renew is considered as bad as a cancellation, the consequences are not quite as serious.
The documentation required for a fresh application by MoC is essentially the same as what they would have had to file for their renewal request, so provided any necessary amendments or corrections are made (if possible), this should not require any particularly onerous additional work. However, the process is likely to take time. Further, there is no guarantee that every organisation’s application would succeed.
In the meantime, however, the organisation can attempt to receive foreign contributions by applying for prior permission. But this permission is not blanket: it is granted for specific amount from specific donors for specific purposes, and on meeting specific conditions such as registration under fixed statutes and a letter of commitment from the foreign donor.
No Good Deed Ever Goes Unpunished’: Here’s How Others Reacted Oxfam India on Sunday, 2 January, said that the decision to refuse the renewal of the licence would hurt its funding from abroad, which it needed to continue humanitarian and social work in 16 states. Meanwhile Dhaval Udani, founder of DanaMojo, an online payment platform for NGOs, told The Hindu, that this “also does not seem to be a case where the NGOs were informed earlier and site updated now.” “30% of the NGOs removed in one shot. No reason given,” Udani said.
Others have taken to Twitter to lament this loss for NGOs, stating ‘no good deed ever goes unpunished’ and to point out that resorting to corporate funds (in absence of international contributions) means ‘hands tied’.
Coutersy: The Quint