New Delhi, 22 May 2013
Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), an apex body of 3500 voluntary organizations across the country, submitted a letter to the prime minister of India to draw the attention of Prime Minister for the rampant misuse of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act against genuine voluntary development organisations of India. Needless to say here that voluntary sector has been partnering with the Indian government and marginalised communities to create a prosperous society. However, since last two years i.e. after the implementation FCRA (2010), it is being used as a tool of silencing and demining the society movements in the country. VANI draw the attention of the P.M. on certain facts which need proper investigation these facts are following:
- Last year almost 4000 registrations were cancelled without informing the organisations. It was from the website that we came to know about this action. Eventually it came out that nearly 200 cases were represented with the department where the records of FCRA department were not updated. These 200 organisations then again submitted their proof of returns and addresses to plead for their case of innocence. Even today all of such cases are not settled by the FCRA department where all proof of due diligence by the visits have been submitted to the department, rather new investigations are initiated to delay the reversal.
- As per the provisions of FCRA, if bank accounts of any registered organisation are freezed or suspended, then investigations have to be completed in 80 days. These investigations have to be conducted by following the laws of natural justice, i.e. it has to be timely, with fair chance of listening to other party, but unfortunately, none of these provisions are being followed. We have cases where investigations are being carried out since two years. In such cases neither victim can appeal nor can go to court of law and is kept under permanent suspension.
- Surprisingly, there are some provisions which are left unexplained and unspecified which are being used against voluntary sector. One line notices are being issues by sighting such provisions which are neither explained nor proved by investigations. The case to sight is “working against national interest”. Even if organisation is working in partnership with Indian government, within the provisions of national plan of any flag ship project of national government, above stated reasons are given to freeze their accounts. Consequently, the victim never gets answer to the crime for which he is being punished. In fact, victim is neither punished to declare innocent as investigations are not taken to logical end.
- Unfortunately, selective leaks are being made in media about the misuse of foreign funds by the voluntary sector; on the contrary there is not a single case to prove this point. We see this as an attempt not only to tarnish the image of the voluntary sector but also to create fear among the minds of voluntary sector. No such leaks or accusations are proved ever.
- Even, international development agencies are not spared. Some of them are being put under prior permission category without giving any chance of hearing or event informing them. Victims of such actions only get to know about the action of the department through information from the banks.
- Misguiding figures about the funds received under FCRA by the voluntary sector is put in the public domain, whereas the latest annual report of FCRA department itself indicates that it is only marginal money out of total funds transferred in the country is for voluntary sector. The major beneficiaries under FCRA are not voluntary sector but the religious institutions and corporate academic institutions registered as Not for Profit Institutions under age old Societies Registration Act, 1860.
VANI as a partner in the development and nation building and on behalf of all genuine voluntary development organisations suggested Prime Minister to take following steps:
- There is an urgent need to inculcate the accountability on the actions of the FCRA department, by time bound investigations. We only request that provisions of the FCRA is respected and adhered to. We request that investigations are completed within the stipulated timeframe under the law.
- Unexplained provisions which are used as the weapon to punish the innocents should be clearly defined. The terms like “national interest”, “Dharna, agitations”, and “political interest” need clear definition as today they are used as one-liners to freeze and suspend the registrations. Even giving information to people on national schemes like NREGS or SSA is considered as working against the national interest in some cases. We feel that making people aware about their entitlements under the law of the land should not be seen as any activity against national interest. Peaceful demonstration like “satyagraha” or taking small delegation to district collector is not a violent activity. We urge the proper notification to be issues by the Ministry of Home Affairs on theses definitions.
- No certificate or document is issued by the FCRA department after receiving annual returns from the registered organisations. The liability always remains with the registered organisation to beg in front of department to get their records updated. The case of cancellation of 4000 organisations has shown that. Being managed by Home Ministry, the voluntary organisations do not have physical access to the officials in the building and there is no provision of getting acknowledgement or certification. This not only makes voluntary organisations vulnerable due to uncertainty but also helps touts to misguide and exploit innocent and law abiding citizens.
- There is need to make the FCRA department more accessible to the voluntary organisations by having structured interface. VANI along with FCRA department planned five regional outreach workshops, but the process was stopped after two namely South and West. We request you to restart the process and organise the remaining outreach workshops for North-East, North, and Eastern Region of the country. Such step not only gives chance to voluntary sector and officials to understand each other but also builds a relationship of trust.
- Last but not least we request a joint mechanism between voluntary sector and official of Ministry of Home Affairs to discuss issues related to not only to FCRA and other issues of mutual concerns. This is in line with the “National Policy for Voluntary Sector” prepared and endorsed by the Government of India in 2007. Such joint mechanism will also help in developing white paper on the foreign funding into India, which can clear lots of misconception in the minds of common people.
Through this news we request to all the National and international media to share this news so it should reach to the masses and policy makers across the globe.
-Civil Society Now