NGOs Take to Social Media to Slam FCRA Licence Cancellation

The NGOs have termed the move “vindictive” and one that disregards all explanations.

Some of the NGOs whose Foreign Contribution Regulation Act licences have been cancelled recently by the home ministry have taken to social media to protest against the decision, which many of them allege was “in disregard of the explanations and arguments”. Some of the NGOs have created Twitter hashtags to publicise their opposition and have even termed the decision as one taken by an “extremely vindictive and fascist government”.

The most vocal in its opposition of the home ministry’s decision has been Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD). Well-known rights activist Shabnam Hashmi who runs the trust was quick to denounce the move by telling the media: “In March 2016, the FCRA was renewed. Today it has been cancelled. The scenario is like the demonetisation notices. The government can’t make up its mind on what it wants to do.”

Going a step further, she charged that “this (Narendra Modi) government has repeatedly shown that it is inefficient, indecisive yet extremely vindictive and fascist. If it had to cancel the FCRA licence, it should have done so after the November 2015 inquiry. Why did they renew it then and why have they cancelled it now?”

Hashmi did not stop at that. Late on December 15 night, she created a hashtag, #AnhadSeDarGayaModi, and urged all the followed to use it.

The licences of Anhad and six other NGOs – including Dalit rights organisation Navsarjan Trust, Marwar Muslim Education and Welfare Society, and Rural Development Research Centre, Ahmedabad – were cancelled by the home ministry on Thursday.

The ministry claimed that as there were adverse intelligence inputs against the seven NGOs, an emergency audit was initiated to probe the process and on the basis of its findings the licences were revoked – this despite their licences having only recently been renewed. The ministry insisted that these organisation had either misused foreign funds or had painted a “anti-Dalit” image of India abroad.

However, what rights activists, journalists and the citizenry believe about the whole issue is completely at variance with the ministry’s stand. On the Twitter page of Dalit rights organisation Navsarjan Trust, several people posted that the probably reason behind the cancellation of its FCRA licence was the manner in which it had been fighting discrimination against the Scheduled Castes and how its founder, Martin Macwan, had spoken about the issue following the Una flogging incident this year. Some also tweeted on the site that “its audit was done after the intelligence Bureau alleged that it was painting the government as anti-Dalit abroad”.

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, the ministry had in a similar move also cancelled the FCRA licences of Greenpeace India and the two NGOs of rights activist Teesta Setalvad – Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). Incidentally, CJP was a co-petitioner in seeking a criminal trial of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was Gujarat chief minister and 62 other politicians and government officials for complicity in the violence that the state witnessed in 2002.

Setalvad had while reacting to the cancellation of the licences of her two NGOs said: “The Trustees regret to note that today’s order of the home ministry is simply a mechanical reiteration of the very same allegations made earlier, in total disregard to the detailed and reasoned explanations and arguments put forward by the Trust. Sabrang Trust will actively explore all legal options to challenge the home ministry’s order cancelling its FCRA registration.”

In her case, the ministry had maintained that in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Sabrang spent 55-65% of foreign funds on “administrative expenses”. This, it claimed was in violation of FCRA rules that state if administrative expenses of an NGO exceed 50% of total foreign donations, the organisation needs an approval from the ministry, something which was not done.

What has perplexed many is the manner in which the licences of these trusts were first renewed earlier this year – especially when those of Greenpeace India and Sabrang Trust had been cancelled earlier, while CJP was in the prior permission list which disentitled it from receiving foreign funds without government permission – only to be cancelled later. The ministry probe had established that their licences were renewed online in August this year.

Apart from these NGOs, the ministry has also ordered a review into the renewal of FCRA registration of 13,000 other NGOs.

The ministry has also been involved in similar oversight in the past. Earlier this year it had suspended four of its officials following the “automatic renewal” of the licence of Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), while the latter was still at large. The ministry had subsequently declared IRF a terror outfit and cancelled the licence.