- SUHASINI HAIDAR
- MEENA MENON
MHA says it will not compromise on national interest
After taking action against the international environment group Greenpeace, the government has clamped down on four American NGOs working in the same field — Avaaz, Bank Information Centre (BIC), Sierra Club and 350.org.
Over the past month, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has directed the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to stop all foreign funding into the accounts of these NGOs or their representatives without MHA clearance. A letter issued by the Director of the Monitoring unit for NGOs said it had been decided “to keep a watch on all the activities funded by U.S.-based donor agencies” and lists the four groups.
The order could create a controversy ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India this month, given that the U.S. has in the past issued statements regarding India’s restrictions on international NGOs.
In 2013, after India took similar action against anti-nuclear groups in Kudankulam, the U.S. State Department had denied it was linked to the NGOs, but said such groups “are among the essential building blocks of any healthy democracy.” Later, the funding for Greenpeace was also frozen.
As a result of the latest MHA order, every fund transfer from abroad for their activists in India will be held back pending clearance.
According to RBI records, the international NGOs were not registered with the government. Neither had their employees in India applied for FCRA clearance. The MHA is also going to inquire into all remittances into India from these groups since January 2013.
Last year also saw the leak of an IB report titled “Concerted efforts by select foreign-funded NGOs to take down Indian development projects.” It contended that several foreign-funded environmental NGOs were targeting development projects across the country. Apart from Greenpeace, Sierra Club and 350.org were mentioned in Annexure B of the IB report in a graph.
Home Ministry and Foreign Ministry officials did not comment on the order and declined to speak about why U.S.-based NGOs had been singled out for scrutiny.
Reason to worry, says NGO representative
A representative of an American green NGO, one of four whose foreign funding will be stopped unless they are cleared by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), told TheHindu that the move appeared to question democratic effort that individuals and organisations could exercise in the country. “False allegations against activists of political subversion are becoming commonplace and that is enough reason to worry,” he said.
A letter the representative received dated December 10 said the MHA Foreigners Division (FCRA wing) regulates receipt of foreign contribution by NGOs to ensure that it is utilised for bonafide welfare activities, without compromising on concerns about national interest and security.
The government has clamped down on four American NGOs — Avaaz, Bank Information Centre (BIC), Sierra Club and 350.org. Earlier it had acted against Greenpeace.
With a claimed membership of about 40 million worldwide, New York-based Avaaz works on several public issues and in September 2014, it had organised a ‘People’s climate march’ in Delhi.
The Bank Information Centre (BIC) is an NGO-based in Washington that tracks World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded projects worldwide, but has a special focus on India. According to a description on its website, its work involves public debate on coal and energy projects in India, as “there is a complete lack of transparency and the agencies who receive these borrowings are not accountable to the people.”
BIC was particularly critical of the Tata Mundhra 4,000 MW Ultra Mega Power Project in Gujarat, a key project for the Gujarat government.
New York-based NGO 350.org which works on climate-change and the California-based Sierra Club have been opposing coal imports from Australia for Indian thermal plants, including deals that were finalised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia in November 2014.