Aug 26, 2015

FCRA and its Impact on Human Rights Work in India; Killing Democracy by Democratic process

by Mairaj Fatima.

The Intelligence Bureau report on Impact of NGOs on Development, has accused "foreign-funded" NGOs of "serving as tools for foreign policy interests of western governments" by sponsoring agitations against nuclear and coal-fired power plants across the country. The report has listed 22 NGOs and donor agencies. The NGOs are said to be working through a network of local organizations as People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Narmada Bachao Andolan. Addressed to Prime Minister's Office, the report alleges that the "areas of action" of the foreign-funded NGOs include anti-nuclear, anti-coal and anti-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) protests. This is not for the first time that the Ministry of Home Affair (MHA) has targeted NGOs. Approximately 4100 NGOs have lost their FCRA registration in 2012. These clean up programmes by the MHA have affected the working of these NGOs. The cancellations are also the outcome of new Rules that have come into force under FCRA 2010. According to the government, they were found to be involved in activities which are against the interest of the nation. However, there is no government data on NGOs that fall in the latter category.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 (FCRA 2010) and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules, 2011 (FCR Rules) have been enacted with effect from 1st May 2011, repealing the earlier rules and act of 1976. Apart from prohibiting politicians, government officers, journalist and news organizations from receiving foreign funds, the law creates strict rules regulating the acceptance of foreign funding by NGOs. The FCRA 2010 sets out what is permitted, restricted or prohibited with respect to acceptance and utilization of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality by certain individuals, associations and entities. At that time, concerns about misuse of the FCRA provisions were brushed aside, but subsequent events have reignited fears of selective targeting of NGOs involved in questioning or opposing government activities.
Section 14(c) allows the Central government to cancel a certificate of registration if in its "opinion" it is necessary in "public interest" to do so. This effectively translates into absolute authority for the MHA to cancel FCRA registration without any real oversight. Further, once an organization is declared to be of a "political nature", its bank accounts are immediately frozen and FCRA registration is cancelled by virtue of Section 5.

Apart from individuals or organizations involved in contesting elections, what constitutes "organization of political nature" is defined in Rule 3 of FCRA Rules 2011. It includes any organization that participates in "bandh or hartal, rasta roko, rail roko or jail bharo in support of public causes..." or has an ideology or objectives that may be called "political".

Who are these NGOs?

The IB report makes colourful, wild, but unsubstantiated allegations against a number of NGOs and activists who oppose rampant expansion of coal mining and coal-based power generation, other extractive industries, promotion of GM crops, destructive projects like POSCO and Vedanta Aluminium, and hare-brained schemes like the interlinking of rivers and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor.

The Indian government’s decision to restrict foreign funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is a blow to civil society in India, and could have a chilling effect on the work of NGOs in the broader region. India now joins the authoritarian-leaning countries such as Russia and Egypt that are engaged in systematic campaigns to limit the space for civil society by targeting groups that receive foreign funding.
Nearly a dozen NGOs were denied permission to receive funding after the government claimed these groups were involved in activities that threatened the public interest.  Some four thousand smaller NGOs were denied permission to receive foreign funding after they allegedly “did not comply with reporting requirements.”  In addition, the Indian Social Action Forum – a network of more than 700 NGOs – has had funding drastically reduced in the past 15 years, and was also denied permission to receive foreign funding.
Political Context

India, there are certain progressive laws and the government is committed to human rights. However, market interests are being prioritised over provisions in the Iconstitution to safeguard the interest of the society. Economic growth puts the environment at risk and the distribution of its benefits is highly unequal. Those who are fighting for the economic, social and cultural rights of minorities and unprivileged become targets of repression. In some cases, the State places restrictions on NGOs when their interventions are 'politically sensitive' and against the interest of 'industrialisation'.

However, the distribution of economic growth is not equal, and there is still considerable discrimination against the poorest and most marginalised groups. The economic growth also has its impact on the environment. India is a consolidated representative democracy. The media is vigorous and diverse, and through their investigations and scrutiny of politicians contribute to India's democracy. However, “government effectiveness and accountability are undermined by criminality in politics, decrepit state institutions, and corruption”

UPA government had initiated steps to tighten the noose around the voluntary sector The anti-Kudankulam nuclear plant agitation strengthened the government's resolve. It blacklisted and froze the accounts of many NGOs involved in the agitation. NGOs which are spearheading movements for tribal welfare and human rights, are being branded "Maoists" and being targeted.

The IB report to PMO designed to muzzle voices of civil society against current model of growth. To stop the NGOs from undertaking participatory agitations against big corporations like Vedanta, POSCO and others, the government could resort to changes in section 5 of the FCRA that may lead to framing of fresh guidelines specifying the grounds on which an organisation shall be specified as an organisation of a political nature. Specifying an NGO as an organisation of political nature can immediately lead to freezing of accounts and cancellation of funding.

Voices Muffled through Restrictive Policies and Actions

India has a complex maze of laws and rules – that give arbitrary powers to the state. No other state has abused them, as comprehensively as India, to censor free expression, curb dissent, criminalise protest, and harshly victimise people – so as to impose manifestly harmful decisions on them.

The maze includes scores of new laws (200, according to one estimate), in addition to the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Police Act, inherited from the colonial era. One such law is the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 (FCRA), with which the government controls overseas funding of non-profit non-governmental organisations (NGOs) through an elaborate system of screening and scrutiny containing several exclusions with powers to suspend foreign-funding permits.

Under Rule 3(vi), the government can exclude any group that “habitually indulges in bandhs, hartals, rasta roko, rail roko, or jail bharo.” These are all non-violent democratic forms of protest, which emerged from India’s freedom struggle, and are recognised around the world as legitimate. Banning them is self-evidently discriminatory.

This rule can be used against any organisation which supports rights-based mobilisations of women, landless farmers, Adivasis, Dalits, students, religious minorities, and people affected by industrial, mining and irrigation projects.

In 2012, the home ministry cancelled the FCRA permits of approximately 4,100 NGOs citing minor technical grounds such as change of address. Some cancellations smack of a witch-hunt. And in June 2014, the 21-page IB report prepared under the title, “Concerted efforts by select foreign funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian development projects”, IB claims that NGOs funded by donors based in the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries are using “people-centric issues to create an environment which lends itself to stalling development projects,” and thus, the economic impact of this ‘anti-national’ role of NGOs on India’s GDP is to the tune of 2-3 percent per annum.

This is part of a distressing pattern of criminalisation of dissent, evident in the state’s attacks on peaceful protesters, banning of satirical cartoons, and punishing people for Facebook and Twitter postings. The government has become especially intolerant of criticism after the recent anti-corruption mobilisations and protests against sexual assaults on women. It may seem paradoxical that restrictions on the freedom of expression and association have been tightened precisely when the government has liberalised the economy, embraced globalisation and opened up India to foreign investment, now considered ‘an imperative’.

If the government is concerned about political abuse of foreign funds, it’s hard to explain why it has created one of the world’s “most liberalised investment regimes” for the media, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. This funnelled some $2.2 billion in foreign funds into that industry in 2010-11 (and probably much more since).

The media is part of the political process and influences public opinion. The ‘foreign hand’ should be an obvious concern in this sensitive industry, which is distorting India’s public discourse. Instead of regulating investment, the government is targeting progressive NGOs through the FCRA.

This looks like a well planned, corporate sponsored government document. This report is a weapon – firstly, to defame the ongoing democratic movements to protect natural resources. Secondly, to restrain the freedom of organisations individuals, who have been raising these issues at various national and international forums.

World Condemns Civil Society Crackdown, except India 

The world’s top human rights body has condemned the global crackdown on civil society and called on all governments to protect and support the work of non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders.

In a resolution adopted on 27th September 2013, entitled ‘Civil society space’ (A/HRC/RES/24/21), the UN Human Rights Council says it is ‘deeply concerned’ at the use and misuse of laws on NGO registration and funding, and even, in some instances, those on ‘national security and counter-terrorism’ to ‘hinder the work and endanger the safety of civil society’.

The Council’s resolution was adopted in Geneva where Mr. Ban Ki Moon said ‘We are seeing a rise in laws that restrict the activities of human rights defenders, We are seeing new ways to impede their work – through over-reaching anti-terrorism and national security legislation; measures relating to public morals, or defamation; laws requiring registration and funding of associations; and new rules regulating Internet access.’
The resolution was supported by many countries like Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, Brazil, but India spoke against the resolution.


In a large developing country like India, there are numerous gaps left by the government in the development process. NGOs and social movements have taken on an active role as guardians in areas such as the environment and civil and minority rights. And the government does not want them to get involved in those areas.

In a democracy every individual, people’s forum, any NGO even getting foreign fund and any political organisation have right to question, dissent or protest any decision or policy of the govt whether it is model of development or a project at the cost of people’s right to life or livelihood. This is fundamental right guaranteed in the constitution.

While transparency in the functioning of NGOs is definitely a must, and foreign funds do need to be regulated, it is still doubtful whether an Emergency-era law that leaves too much to executive discretion without any mechanisms of oversight, is the way to do it.


  • Prafulla Samantara (July 14th 2014). IB Report: fake Stories against Peoples Movements. India Resist 
  • June 20th 2014, FCRA a Tool to Gag Critics: Activists. The Times of India
  • May 3rd 2014. Indian Civil Society under Threat. Retrieved from
  • Praful Bidwai (June 23rd 2014). How the government is smothering dissident NGOs. Environmental Justice. Retrieved from
  • Danish (May 23rd 2013). Is the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, a tool to curb dissent?. Firstpost retrieved from
  • May 20th 2014. Restrictions on NGOs Threatens Civil Society in India, the Worlds’ largest Democracy. Freedom House
  • June 15th 2014. IB Report on NGOs. Heiyenlanpao.
  • Sreelatha Menon (October 8th 2012). New FCRA Rules leave NGOs Fuming. Business Standard
  • India choking foreign funds of ngos to suppress dissent.
  • G Sreedathan (June 19th 2014). IB Report portends tough times ahead: NGOs. Business Standard.
  • Shrinking political space of civil society action. June 2011. actalliance. New Delhi
  • World's leading human rights body condemns civil society crackdown. ISHR - 
  • Manan Kumar (June 16th 2014) Is Intelligence Bureau report a precursor to stringent norms against NGOs?. DNA India


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