Time to review law for foreign funding of NGOs

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  • The equivalent of Lutyens Delhi is the NGO industry. It is not possible for the MHA to know who the actual donor is, and monitor the end use of the funds.
  • What the gaps in the current policy framework and should the proposed framework be?

Did you know that foreign organisations remitted Rs 169,619 cr into India between 2001 and 2017 (Table 1), which is 17 times ISRO’s revised budget estimate for 2018-19 of Rs 9,918 cr.1

So what is the regulatory framework for NGOs who receive foreign funds?

The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) regulates the receipt of funds by NGOs and is managed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Any organisation that wants to receive contribution from abroad has to get approval from MHA.

LARGEST DONORS/RECIPIENTS

The country wise data in the public domain is available from 2002-03 to 2011-12. The details here are extracted from the 2011-12 Annual Report published by the MHA.

The top three donor countries are consistently the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. Remittances from these three countries in 2011-12 were: Rs 3,838 cr, Rs 1,219 cr and Rs 1,096 cr, respectively.

The top donors were Compassion International, US, Rs 183 cr; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, US, Rs 130 cr; and the Kinder Not Hilfe e. V (KNH), Germany, Rs 51 cr. Corresponding figures for these three countries in 2010-11 were: Rs 99 cr, “not available”, and Rs 48 cr.

The top associations that reported receiving foreign contributions in 2011-12 were: World Vision of India, Chennai, Rs 233 cr; Believers Church India, Pathanamthitta, Kerala, Rs 190 cr; and Rural Development Trust, Ananthapur, Rs 144 cr. The corresponding figures for 2010-11 are Rs 233 cr, Rs 160 cr and Rs 135 cr, respectively

A personal review of the top 15 donors in 2011-12 shows one Islamic organisation as a donor. In 2010-11, there is one donor of Indian origin. Of the top 15 recipient associations in 2011-12 and 2010-11, one is of Indian origin.

Prayer Hall Samba, Jammu Region. Pic 2014 

OBJECTIVES OF KEY DONORS, RECIPIENTS

Here is a glimpse into the objectives of the key donors and recipients:

Compassion International, US: Releasing children from poverty in the name of Jesus.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, US: Share the gospel, serve, teach, etc

Kinder Not Hilfe e. V (KNH), Germany: Supporting children in need. It is an international Christian child rights organisation.

World Vision of India, Chennai: “We are a Christian organisation working to create a positive and enduring change in the lives of children, families and communities living in abject poverty and undue inequality.”

Believers Church India, Kerala: A Christian denomination is Biblical and evangelical in faith, apostolic in origin, universal in nature, ecumenical in outlook. Their focus is on healthcare, educating children, empowering women, sanitation and disaster relief.

Rural Development Trust, Ananthapur: Empowers rural communities in India and supports them in their struggle to eradicate poverty, suffering and injustice.

It is to be noted that words such as “poverty”, “inequality”, “rights”, “evangelical” and “injustice” are commonly used here.

QUESTIONS FOR DONORS

It’s time to ask certain questions to these donors: Is society in their home country perfect, with zero inequality or gun killings? According to a New York Times report, nearly 40,000 people died from gun killings in US in 2017.

Are they the sole custodian of poverty alleviation and has Government of India invited them to make Indian society a replica of the West?

Those who argue that Indian gurus have established a base in the West must realise these gurus do not claim to remove inequality or injustice.

DONORS ESCAPING MONITORING

Let’s now shed some light on how donors try to escape monitoring by the MHA.

World Vision International, US, remitted Rs 705 cr in 2008-09, but did not make it to the top 15 donors’ list in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. Gospel for Asia Inc. US, made a contribution of Rs 596 cr in 2008-09 and Rs 233 cr in 2009-10, but did not feature on the top 15 donors’ list in 2010-11 and 2011-12. By not appearing on that list, it is possible that these donors might not attract the attention of the MHA. A look at Table 1 indicates that except for 2009-10, remittances by donors have increased, so the money is coming from somewhere.

According to indiahap.wordpress.com, “Gospel for Asia Inc opened 11 limited liability companies in Texas. Four FCRA-NGOs, all located in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala were exclusively funded either by GFAI or by these LLCs. These were: Gospel For Asia (GFA), Believers Church India (BCI), Last Hour Ministry (LHM) and Love India Ministries (LIM).”

Sometimes, FCRA-registered organisations donate to other FCRA registered organisations, as in the case of Shalom Global Foundation. According to FCRAAnalyses blog, it showed Rs 57.2 lakh as amounts received from within India—meaning from other FCRA-registered NGOs. Transfers in India among FCRA-registered organisations in 2012 amounted to Rs 1,317 cr.

Given these facts, it is impossible for the MHA to know who the actual donor is, and monitor the end use of the funds.

INTERESTS EARNED

And what about the bank interest earned by organisations for foreign receipts?

According to FCRAnalyses blog, for the financial years 2006 to 2012 interest earned on savings bank account was Rs 664 cr and on fixed deposits Rs 3,475 cr. The interest on fixed deposit was Rs 619 cr in 2012, assuming an average interest rate of 8% per annum gives a fixed deposit investment of about Rs 7,500 cr.

Are these NGOs or non-banking finance companies? 

Between 2006 and 2012 foreign funds received by FCRA registered organisations were used to purchase land for Rs 620 cr.

Should such NGOs be allowed to purchase land in India?

At Yachuli is St Don Bosco School. Is between Ziro and Itanagar. Pic 2013.

HOW ARE FUNDS RECEIVED, USED?

The donor objectives and values referred to in this article make their intent clear, so one should not complain if these are pursued. Some examples:

1. Mohandas Pai, former Infosys director, wrote in the Economic Times, “I have a personal experience of evangelical groups trying to convert members of my family. Two house maids who converted said that the school where their children went raised fees and due to their inability to pay, they were told they would waive it if they converted (which they were forced to do). When asked, inevitably they spoke about evangelicals groups that gave them free education for children and paid their medical bills, provided they converted”.

2. Action Aid India’s Annual Report 2012-13 (pg 26, “National Study on Status of Muslims in India”) refers to a national study on the status of Muslims in India. Do such studies seek to exploit social fault lines?

3. Aravindan Neelakandan wrote in Swarajya that Gospel for Asia saw the 2004 tsunami as “one of the greatest opportunities God has given us to share his love with people”. Foreign contributions to Tamil Nadu were Rs 775 cr in 2002-03, which leapfrogged post the tsunami to Rs 2,118 cr in 2006-07.

4. Activist Yoginder Sikand, who spent years fighting for the oppressed—Dalits, minorities and women—wrote in Countercurrent, “Why I gave up on Social Activism”: “Some made pretty neat fortunes setting up NGOs and ‘think-tanks’ ostensibly to study and ‘work with’ ‘oppressed communities’, and raked in vast amounts of money from gullible foreign donors.”

The equivalent of Lutyens Delhi is the NGO industry for whom the buzzwords are poverty, inequality, women empowerment, etc. As long as Indians are in poverty, they survive. This is not to paint all of them with the same brush. There are of course those who are well intentioned and sincere without seeking to divide society on the lines of faith.

NGOS INFLUENCE POLICYMAKING

An organisation called Women Power Connect was formed in 2004 and trained specifically for the purpose of lobbying and advocacy towards the following causes: 33% reservation for women in Parliament, adoption of domestic violence bill and ADVOCATING for gender-just budgeting. It was funded by International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which in turn was funded for this project by USAID, an agency of the US Federal Government (source: Indiafacts).

Bread for the World and Misereor, two Christian organisations also provided funds to Equations, an organisation that published the report demonising the Amarnath Yatra (source: OpIndia).

“Himachal Pradesh passed a Religious Freedom Bill in 2007. A section of it demanded that a person who failed to give due notice (to district authorities) before converting to another religion can be fined. This section was struck down by the HP HC. In all, Section 4 and Rules 3 and 5 of HP Freedom of Religion Rules, 2007, were struck down. This ruling came due to a PIL filed by Evangelical Fellowship of India and ANHAD. Donors to these two organizations are from the western world” (source: FCRAAnalyses blog).

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Is India a country like the US, where its President takes oath of office keeping one hand on the Bible? How many current mega donors or recipients uphold Dharma, which forms part of the Supreme Court logo, Yato Dharmah Tato Jayah—where there is Righteousness (Dharma), there is Victory (Jaya)?

WHAT IS THE WAY FORWARD?

It is not possible for any government to monitor the activities of so many foreign funded NGOs. So the proposed policy is:

Only NRIs/Persons of Indian Origin/Individuals should, by law, remit money to an NGO in India. This excludes those organisations that operate like global MNCs and are self-appointed guardians of development worldwide. Organisations that receive foreign funding under FCRA should not be allowed to file Public Interest Litigations acting on the cue of donors

So how will the shortfall be made up?

According to a Business Today report, CSR spending by NSE listed companies was Rs 10,886 crore in 2017-18. If you add the unlisted companies to this, the spends would be much more. NGOs can seek funding from India Inc. Through that they can continue good work in a non-sectarian spirit, for example, like Akshaya Patra.

 

N.B. All the data for this article was sourced from the primary work found on the blogs http://fcraanalyses.blogspot.com/ and https://indiahap.wordpress.com. Utmost care has been taken whilst culling out extracts for this article. Errors, if any, are inadvertent and not with mala fide intent. The article is meant to draw attention to a situation that has remained under the public radar for a long time.

 

Author is a Chartered Accountant and founder, www.esamskriti.com.

 

FOOTNOTE

1. The figures for 2001-02 to 2009-10 in Table 1 are from FCRA Annual Report 2011-12 published by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The inflows data from 2010-11 to 2015-16 is based on an RTI reply by the FCRA wing of MHA, dated 7 November 2017. The figure for 2016-17 is based on a reply given by Kiren Rijiju, former Minister of State for Home in the Rajya Sabha on 25 July 2018.

 

First published in Sunday Guardian here

 

Table 1 - Foreign Contributions from 2001-02 to 2016-17

Financial Year

Rs in Crores

Financial Year

Rs in Crores

2001-02

4871

2010-11

10864

2002-03

5046

2011-12

11935

2003-04

5105

2012-13

12614

2004-05

6256

2013-14

14852

2005-06

7877

2014-15

15296

2006-07

11007

2015-16

17764

2007-08

9663

2016-17

15329

2008-09

10802

2017-18

NA.

2009-10

10338

2018-19

NA

  TOTAL

2001-02 to

2016-17

169,619

Also read

1 Pics Churches of Arunachal Pradesh

2 What is DHARMA?

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