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NEW DELHI: With the Lok Sabha passing a bill on Monday to amend the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, Lok Sabha member from Shillong, Vincent H Pala, on Monday made a fervent appeal to withdraw the contentious amendments in the FCRA Bill on the ground that it was against Christians and other minorities, NGOs and civil societies of the country, particularly those in the North East.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Pala said the amendment, proposing to decrease an organisation’s administrative expenses from foreign funding to 20 per cent from 50 per cent, will hit the NGOs most.
Unlike the government, the NGOs do not have enough infrastructure and cannot manage their work within this limit, Pala said.
The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha by Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, faced demur from Leader of Opposition, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, his Congress colleague Manish Tewari, and Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy, who termed it a means to “crush dissent” and “concentrate powers in the hands of the government”.
NGOs have also lambasted various proposals in the Bill, saying it will only enhance government power and restrict foreign-funded civil society work in India.
But some ruling party MPs feel that a substantial part of such funds coming from abroad were being used to fuel the half-century-old insurgency in the North East.
Pala also criticised the amendments since it proposed to link leaders of all organisations to Aadhaar.
“It is everybody’s knowledge that in states like Meghalaya, Aadhaar has not been implemented even partially,” he said.
Pala also sought to know why FCRA accounts can be opened only in SBI, that too in New Delhi.
With India being a vast country and North East being remote from the national capital, he said for every NGO to visit New Delhi in order to open an account would be a herculean task.
Pala also alleged that the Centre was meting out harassment and religious intolerance. Some MPs from the Opposition claim that the newly passed FCRA Bill will hit the Christian-dominated Northeastern region most as many of the missionaries, which have been carrying on with benevolent activities for decades, will be hit.
Several Christian social workers in the North East have also decried the Centre’s move, saying that FCRA norms have been stringent in India.
The government has “misused” it to discriminate against charity organisations run by religious minorities, they said.
The Modi government had cancelled the FCRA licenses of about 10,000 organisations in 2015 alone. It included funding agency, Ford Foundation, and the global environmentalist group, Greenpeace.
However, leading Catholic organisations were cautious in their reactions to the proposals, saying it was premature to comment on them.
Father Paul Moonjely, director of Caritas India, told UCA News that “it was too early to comment because we are not sure what the new FCRA Bill has.”
Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India, is averse to the proposal.
“Devastating blow! Red carpet welcomes for foreign investments for businesses but stifling and squeezing the non-profit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid which could help lift people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy,” he tweeted.
A Nagaland-based social worker said the government exhibits hypocrisy.
“They want foreign corporate investment but no charity,” he said, adding, “This law is against Christians and Muslims. This is a move to target people who speak against the government. It seeks to scare away the common people who dare to vote against the BJP”.
A government statement explaining the amendment’s reasons said the annual inflow of foreign contributions has almost doubled between 2010 and 2019.
“But many recipients of foreign contributions have not utilised the same for the purpose for which they were registered or granted prior permission” under the law.