New Delhi: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) this year has suspended the licenses of six non-governmental organisations (NGOs) under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010, of which four are Christian associations, according to a report in The Hindu. An FCRA licence is mandatory for a non-profit organisation to receive foreign funds.
The four Christian groups whose FCRA was suspended are Ecreosoculis North Western Gossner Evangelical in Jharkhand, the Evangelical Churches Association (ECA) in Manipur, Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jharkhand and New Life Fellowship Association (NLFA) in Mumbai. The reasons for the suspension or violation were not specified, the report said.
At least two US-based Christian donors are also under the MHA’s scanner for funding NGOs and groups here, the report said, quoting a senior government official. “Concerns have been raised regarding the impact of US-based evangelical donors including Seventh Day Adventist Church and Baptist Church in regard to Indian associations; a probe is on,” the official told The Hindu.
Other NGOs under MHA scanner
As per the report, two other organisations whose license was suspended are the Rajnandgaon Leprosy Hospital and Clinics, and the Don Bosco Tribal Development Society.
However, this is not the first time the government has cancelled FCRA licences of NGOs. Some critics have even highlighted concerns that the government is using FCRA as a tool to silence non-profits that raise concerns over the social costs of economic development in India.
In 2015, the home ministry had cancelled the FCRA licences of 10,000 organisations, including international funding agency Ford Foundation, the environmentalist group Greenpeace, and human rights advocacy group Lawyers Collective. In November 2016, the home ministry rejected the licence renewal applications of 25 NGOs, including those involved in human rights work, and allegedly termed them as anti-national.
Earlier in 2017, another powerful US-based Christian donor, Compassion International, was forced to stop operations in India after the ministry found that it funded NGOs that encouraged religious conversions.
The same year, US-based NGO founded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg Philanthropies, came under the MHA scanner over concerns that the foundation was running a campaign to “target” Indian tobacco business and “aggressively” lobbying against the sector.
What is FCRA?
Enforced by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the law regulates receipt of foreign contributions or aid from outside India to India territories. The primary purpose of the FCRA is to regulate electoral candidates, judges and political parties from accepting foreign contributions to ensure that Indian elections are not affected by foreign interests.
The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) was enacted in 1976 by the Indira Gandhi-led government during the Emergency. Since several deficiencies were found in application of the 1976 Act, the government proposed to enact a fresh law on the subject whereby the regime was changed from ‘regulation’ to ‘prohibition’ of acceptance and utilisation of foreign contributions. With this change, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, was enacted and came into force from May 1, 2011.
According to Bar and Bench, ‘national interest’ became paramount in the new law, requiring certain individuals or associations or companies to be prohibited from accepting foreign contribution. The 1976 Act stated “An Act to regulate… in a manner consistent with the values of a sovereign democratic republic…”, whereas the Act of 2010 stated “An Act to consolidate… for any activities detrimental to the national interest…”
Who can receive foreign contribution?
Any “person” who must have a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme; the FCRA registration prior permission from the central government; and must not be prohibited under section 3 of FCRA, 2010.
According to section 3(1) of FCRA, 2010, those who are prohibited from receiving foreign contribution include election candidates; correspondent, columnist, cartoonist, editor, owner, printer or publisher of a
registered newspaper; judge, government employees; members of any legislature; political parties; association or company engaged in the production or broadcast of audio news or audio visual news or current affairs programmes through any electronic mode.
Last year, the Bajrang Dal – the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – had obstructed prayer meetings organised by the NLFA in Mumbai, allegedly suspecting that it was a cover for religious conversions.
On February 10, the home ministry suspended the FCRA license of NLFA, along with other organisations. According to the NLFA’s website, the group began operations in India in the mid-sixties after the arrival of missionaries from the New Life Churches of New Zealand in 1964.
The Evangelical Churches Association (ECA) was founded in 1952 in Manipur. Its origins can be traced to a Welsh Presbyterian missionary who visited in 1910. ECA presently has more than 200 congregations with a membership of more than 35,000 spread across the north eastern states of India.
According to the website of Ecreosoculis North-Western Gossner Evangelical, its origin is rooted in the development of the Gossner mission of Germany in Chhotanagpur region. It spreads over eleven states of India which are Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Punjab and Karnataka, and also neighbouring country of Nepal.
The Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church was established in 1987 and is part of a global communion of 148 churches in the Lutheran tradition, representing over 77 million Christians in 99 countries, as per the report in The Hindu.
None of the associations responded to requests by The Hindu for a comment on the government’s decision.
In the last three years, according to an Indian Express report in March, the government has cancelled licences of over 6,600 NGOs in the country for violation of various provisions of the FCRA. More than 69% of these NGOs are educational institutions.
However, in January, the Centre decided to exempt all organisations, set up under a Central or state act or through an administrative or executive order of the Central or state government, which are wholly owned by the government and have their accounts audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, from the provisions of the FCRA.
As of now, there are 22,457 NGOs or associations registered under the FCRA, while the licenses of 20,674 were cancelled and 6,702 are deemed to have expired.