It is unfortunate that the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2020 (AINA) or the Foreign Contribution Control Amendment Act, which was upheld by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court last week, has not been discussed anywhere. The Supreme Court has pointed out some important facts in rejecting the public interest petition questioning the amendment of the law which has been brought in a way that is detrimental to the voluntary organizations in the country which accept foreign donations. The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to receive foreign donations is not a fundamental right and that arbitrary acceptance of donations from foreign countries would affect the sovereignty of the country. That’s right. At the same time, in the light of humanitarian considerations and the realities of life of millions of marginalized people in the country, it is not difficult to see that the Foreign Contribution Control Amendment Act is becoming a human rights violation and far-reaching affecting the progress of an oppressed society. It is in this context that the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has criticized the provisions of the Foreign Contribution Control Amendment Act as being detrimental to human rights activists and an act of tyranny and inconsistent with international law. It should be added that Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, ceased operations in India after the Central Government froze the organization’s bank account for violating foreign donation control laws.
The central government explained that the law was amended to ensure greater transparency in the use of funds, alleging that some organizations had misused foreign donations in recent years. However, it is clear that the amendment will reduce the freedom of action of NGOs and thereby slow down the awakening of various marginalized communities.
The new amendment makes it illegal to transfer a foreign donation to another person or organization. There are many voluntary organizations in our country which receive funds from large organizations that receive foreign donations. This is a mandate that adversely affects their performance. The central government claims that this regulation promotes transparency. But the government’s approach is to ignite charitable activities at the grassroots level. The interest of the government in burning down the house in the name of a problem that can be solved if the annual reporting and auditing is done properly is not so sincere.
Prior to the new law amendment, the administrative costs of non-profit organizations, including NGOs, and foreign donors were capped at 50 percent. But what needs to be understood is that cutting it to twenty per cent is not part of a deliberate agenda. The main cost of the said voluntary organizations is administrative expenses. If their proportions are significantly reduced, their function will be out of tune. Then the benefits of the projects will not reach the grassroots of the society. Economic scarcity makes it difficult for organizations to recruit skilled candidates. There is no doubt that it will significantly affect the efficiency of educational and charitable activities.
Under Section 13 of the new Amendment Act, the suspension period for registration of an NGO receiving foreign donations has been increased from 180 days to 360 days. That is to say, it is a vicious exercise of excessive power when it comes to suspending a well-functioning NGO for up to a year, citing licensing techniques. There is a tussle going on that is hampering the efficient functioning of voluntary organizations.
At first glance, the new law aims to increase the government’s authority over voluntary organizations operating across the country. Renewal application should be submitted six months before the expiry of the registration period of voluntary organizations accepting foreign donations. At that point, the rule is that the central government can investigate the organization and make the appropriate decision. The amendment seeks to open the door to further legal action on the part of voluntary organizations to ride roughshod over the state. The government has not given guidelines on how long the renewal process should be completed. This is an unjustifiable move to tie the legitimate voluntary organizations in our country to the shackles of the state. The country’s voluntary organizations are small alternatives to the right of a government that has failed miserably in fulfilling the role of the welfare state in the modern democratic system that promotes the concept of the welfare state. Instead of giving them firm support and moving on the path of national progress, the hostile intellect of the state is pushing away the basic rights of the country’s poor people. Our government is constantly signaling that the welfare state is not their agenda and that they are fascinated by the kayak power of the police state.
According to the new law, NGOs across the country will have to register their accounts with SBI Bank, Delhi, to accept foreign donations. While acknowledging the Court’s observation that it is inconvenient for organizations to question the constitutional validity of the amendment, it is important for the Government to take practical steps to ensure that the basic rights of the citizen are guaranteed. Not only did that not happen, but the central government has undermined the judicial intervention in the pursuit of justice.
The Foreign Contribution Control Act was amended in 2010, declaring that it would restrict the acceptance and utilization of foreign contributions and prevent it from being used for activities contrary to the national interest. But the recent revelation that it is not enough shows that the resurgence of the oppressed sections of the country will annoy the government. In that sense, it is unfortunate that the Foreign Contribution Control Amendment Act was given the green light by the judiciary.