Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Govt deletes NGOs’ data from FCRA site

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The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has removed some crucial data from its Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) website which include a list of NGOs whose licences have been cancelled, and the annual returns of NGOs.

The MHA did not offer any official comment on this move, but officials said it was done because the data was considered “unnecessary” for public viewing.

The FCRA website used to maintain detailed data on NGOs granted licences; NGOs granted prior permission for receiving  foreign contribution; NGOs whose licences have been cancelled; NGOs whose licences are deemed to have expired; and, the annual returns of NGOs.

The website now only has overall data on these indices. The list identifying these NGOs has been removed and there is no way to access the annual returns of NGOs.

“Whatever data was deemed not useful or unnecessary has been removed. The overall data on the number of NGOs that have lost licence and the number of NGOs which have filed annual returns has been maintained as it is,” an official of the MHA said.

Apart from this, data on quarterly accounts of foreign contributions received by NGOs has also been removed. Sources, however, said this is in line with the changes in FCRA rules notified by the Ministry earlier this month.

On July 1, the Ministry notified a series of changes in FCRA rules in “an effort to lessen the compliance burden on NGOs”. These included changes in Rule 13 which deals with “declaration of receipt of foreign contribution”. The government deleted clause (b) of the Rule. The clause stated: “A person receiving foreign contribution in a quarter of the financial year shall place details of foreign contribution received on its official website or on a website as specified by the Central government within 15 days following the last day of the quarter in which it has been received clearly indicating details of donors, amount received and date of receipt.”

Some of the NGOs said this was a “strange” development. “While it will not impact the functioning of NGOs, it ostensibly looks like an effort to lessen transparency in the functioning of the FCRA division. At a time when allegations of corruption within the FCRA division are being investigated by the CBI, the Ministry should be ushering in more transparency,” the chief of an NGO, who did not wish to be named in this report, said.

On December 25, the MHA had rejected the application of renewal of FCRA licence of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The MHA had said the decision was taken based on “adverse inputs” but did not say what the inputs were. Earlier, some BJP leaders had alleged that the NGO was engaged in religious conversion. A political row erupted with the Opposition slamming the government for targeting a charitable organisation. Later, the government restored the NGO’s licence.

In January, it declined to renew the licence of Oxfam India and recently cancelled the licence of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

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