Amit Shah’s FCRA Amendment Bill Explained: Why The Opposition Is Up In Arms
What exactly does the FCRA Amendment Bill propose?
The Lok Sabha on Monday (21 September) passed the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill amid sharp protests from opposition parties and NGOs.
Soon after the bill [PDF] was introduced in the Lok Sabha it was opposed by the CEO of Oxfam India who called it a devastating blow. Other NGOs and political parties like the Congress and the TMC have also come out to oppose this amendment.
The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Sunday by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, in Home Minister Amit Shah's absence.
What are the amendments?
Under this amendment NGOs cannot use more than 20 per cent of the foreign contributions to meet their administrative expenses like paying salaries. The earlier limit to meet administration expense was capped at 50 per cent.
In addition to judges, government servants or employee of any government owned or controlled companies, all public servants will not be permitted to accept foreign donations. The definition of a public servant will be made as per the Section 21 of the IPC.
This amendment also prohibits individuals or NGOs from transferring their foreign contribution to a third party. Earlier it was permitted to transfer foreign funds to other FCRA certificate holders or those who had taken prior permission to receive such contributions.
In case the centre suspects any violation of FCRA norms, it can (pending further inquiry) direct the NGO not to spend the un-utilised funds or receive the remainder of the foreign funds.
Any new registration for an FCRA certificate or a renewal would now require the Aadhaar number of all its office bearers or Directors or other key functionaries. In case of foreign office bearers, they would need to furnish a passport or OCI card.
This amendment also gives a facility for FCRA certificate holders to surrender their certificate.
Opposition By Critics
Critics of the bill like NGOs and opposition parties has claimed that these amendments will curtail the ease of doing business of civil society organisations as per executive director of the National Foundation for India Biraj Patnaik.
He adds that the limit on use of foreign funds to meet administrative expenses will hurt research and advocacy organisations - many of whom might have to shut down. He also claims that a bar on transfer of foreign funds will impact grassroots organisations who are dependent on funds from larger organisations.
Oxfam's CEO Amitabh Behar had claimed that these amendments would stifle and squeeze the nonprofit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid.
MoS for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai while introducing the bill said in the Lok Sabha that the bill aims to ensure that the foreign money coming to India is not used against national interests, or in any anti-national activities. He also maintained that the bill is not against NGOs but it seeks to bring more transparency in their functioning.
BJP MP Satpal Singh said that many Christian NGOs have been misusing the foreign funds to convert people from Hinduism.
Recent Crackdown On FCRA Violations
In the first week of September the Home Ministry had suspended the FCRA licenses of 13 NGOs and associations for allegedly indulging in religious conversion activities in tribal-dominated areas.
Also, the Home Ministry had frozen the bank accounts of these NGOs after intelligence reports had pointed to their conversion of locals to Christianity in some tribal areas of certain states including Jharkhand.
At least two United States (US) based Christian donors are also under Home Ministry's scanner. These are Seventh Day Adventist Church and Baptist Church. A probe is presently being pursued into their funding activities in India.
In 2019, the Home Ministry had cancelled the licenses of 1,300 NGOs. The CBI that year had raided the residence of senior lawyer Indira Jaising and her husband Anand Grover over allegations of the latter's NGO having violated FCRA regulations while receiving foreign contribution amounting to Rs 32.39 crore, between 2006 and 2015.
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