New Delhi: The trust set up to build and manage the Ram temple in Ayodhya was on Wednesday, October 18, granted a licence that will allow it to receive foreign donations. The Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra has spent nearly Rs 900 crore on the construction of the temple and has Rs 3,000 crore lying in its coffers.
The trust had earlier this month submitted an application for registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the law that regulates foreign contributions to Indian entities and their subsidiaries.
It may be noted that this development comes in the wake of a concerning rise in the list of NGOs whose FCRA licences have been cancelled by the government. Political analysts and civil rights groups say this is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s move to suppress organisations that are critical of it.
In January 2020, the FCRA licence of more than 10,000 NGOs was cancelled. In January 2022, the government revoked the FCRA license of almost 6,000 nonprofits, including prominent entities like Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, Oxfam India, Delhi University, IIT Delhi, and Jamia Millia University. More recently, think tanks like the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and three NGOs that work with children, women, and survivors of gender-based violence have had their licences cancelled.
According to NewsClick, some of the organisations that no longer hold an FCRA registration are Hamdard Education Society, Indian Institute of Technology (Hauz Khas), Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), National Foundation for Communal Harmony (NFCH), Delhi College of Engineering, Goa Football Association, Press Institute of India, The Lepra India Trust and Indian Institute of Management (Calcutta), Medical Council of India, Emmanuel Hospital Association, which runs over a dozen hospitals across India, Tuberculosis Association of India.
Between licence cancellations and amendments in FCRA regulations, nonprofits are facing an immense compliance burden. To add to that, an organisation that has its FCRA licence revoked not only loses the ability to receive foreign money, but it also stands to have all the assets created using FCRA funds seized by the government. According to former Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy director Ingrid Srinath, “This is such a humongous consequence that it would deter anyone from doing anything that might even remotely attract negative attention. In addition, the situation invariably affects domestic donors, who begin to worry about being viewed as ‘guilty by association”.
On the chilling effect that such cancellations have, she said, “Altogether this threatens the very roots of our democracy, because a civil society that is muzzled, timid, and afraid to venture into certain areas is not able to play the roles it is required to. It cannot hold the government, business, and media accountable, amplify voices at the margins, or ensure that policies are inclusive and democratic.”
According to reports, the ground floor of the three-storey temple will be completed by December-end and a consecration ceremony may take place in late January. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to take part in an event related to the prana pratishtha around the same time.
Meanwhile, temple trust general secretary Champat Rai said, “So far, the trust had not put up any application to the government of India for getting funds in foreign currency (for the temple’s construction). There were legal reasons behind it. But now, we have completed all formalities and have submitted an application for registration of the trust under the FCRA via online mode,” he added.
After the Supreme Court’s November 2019 verdict paved the way for the temple’s construction, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its associates in 2021 launched a “Nidhi Samarpan Abhiyan” for collecting funds for the temple construction.
“If we start from February 5, 2020, till March 31, 2023, almost Rs 900 crore have been spent on the Mandir’s construction and other related works. Even today, in saving deposits and fixed deposits, we still have more than Rs 3,000 crore – which means very little of what has been collected under the ‘Nidhi Samarpan Abhiyan’ has been spent so far,” said Rai.
“The money that has been received through donations via online mode, etc, is also being used continuously,” he added.
The temple trust also plans to distribute a photograph of the idol to as many as 10 crore households over the next two years in addition to distributing rice from an ‘akshat puja’ (rice ceremony) across 5 lakh villages – indicating some of the areas where the Rs 3,000 crore and the potential foreign donations may be spent.
Note: This article was originally published at 13:50 pm on October 10, 2023. It was updated and republished at 6:05 pm on October 18, 2023.