6 September 2010. Over 70 eminent civil society activists from across the globe who attended the CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal this August expressed deep disappointment at the enactment of India's regressive Foreign Contributions Regulations Act, 2010 (FCRA).
Among other things, the Act allows for broad executive discretion to designate organisations as being of ‘political nature' and thereby prevent them from accessing funding from abroad, which could affect the independence of civil society groups critical of government policies. It also requires organisations to renew their permission to receive funding from abroad every five years which subjects them to additional bureaucratic red tape, and places an arbitrary cap of 50% on the administrative expenses of an organisation receiving foreign funding as a further sign of interference in the internal functioning of civil society organisations.
"The new law signals a deep distrust of civil society at a time when across the world, India is being lauded for its open democracy, its espousal of a rights based approach to development, the progressive right to information regime and the government's engagement with its vibrant civil society organisations," said Maja Daruwala, CIVICUS Board Member and Director of the New Delhi based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
The World Assembly delegates were shocked to learn that the provisions of the law stand in complete contrast to the stated policy of the Indian Government. The National Policy on the Voluntary Sector had promised that the Government would review the FCRA and simplify the provisions that apply to voluntary organisations from time to time, in consultation with the joint consultative group to be set up by the concerned Ministry.
The original Foreign Contributions Regulations Act 1976 was the outcome of the now discredited Emergency period in India (1975-1977) when fundamental freedoms were suspended. It was passed as a security measure in order to track foreign inflows at a time when there were tight restrictions on the receipt and expenditure of foreign exchange. Laws dating back to this time that applied to the private sector have since been relaxed or simplified. Despite civil society requests to be put on par in terms of foreign financial transactions with business houses that receive investments from abroad, the Indian government has chosen to carve out a discriminatory regime against civil society groups.
The new legislation adds to additional burden on civil society despite the fact that organisations ranging from trade unions to NGOs and community based groups already need to comply with multiple laws governing their registration and operations, besides income tax and other fiscal regulations, including money laundering laws as all other entities.
The new law adds India to the list of countries implementing or seeking to introduce restrictive legislation on international cooperation and funding that is open to abuse such as Bahrain, Ethiopia, Jordan, Israel, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) team of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world. In 2009, CSW tracked threats to civil society in over 75 countries around the globe.
For more information contact:
Devendra Tak ( ), Communications Manager, CIVICUS
Mandeep S.Tiwana ( ), Policy Manager, CIVICUS
Ph +27- 11-8335959