FCRA loopholes being plugged due to misuse; NGOs, religious bodies nervy

While genuine donations to temples and churches, and charities and genuine NGOs have been streamlined, there are still several gray areas where the implementation of the act has been suffering.

The government is said to be working on plugging the loopholes in the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It is admitted that, despite amendments last year, the act is open to misuse, misinterpretation, and laxity in implementation. While genuine donations to temples and churches, and charities and genuine NGOs have been streamlined, there are still several gray areas where the implementation of the act has been suffering.

As an instance of laxity in implementation, it’s pointed out that three junior officials of the Union Home Ministry, who were suspended on Thursday, vetted and renewed on August 19 this year the FCRA license of Islamist preacher Zakir Naik’s NGO Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), despite pending inquiries. An FCRA license allows an NGO to receive foreign donations.

The government has initiated a serious probe in the activities of Naik and his funding activities following a complaint from Bangladesh that Naik”s sermons might have motivated the youths who bombed the Holey Artisan Cafe in Dhaka in July this year, leading to mayhem and death of scores of people.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju on Friday said “We are very clear that any organization, which is involved in some illegal activities or case is pending we don’t renew their licenses. So, there was some lapse found and action is being taken,” referring to the suspension of three officials from the foreigner’s division of the MHA.

Earlier in May, the CBI booked an under secretary in the Union Home Ministry on charges of corruption. The official, Anand Joshi, was posted in the Foreigners Division of the ministry and had access to files related to Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Joshi was accused of favoring or harassing NGOs who received the monetary contribution from foreign countries.

Under the amended FCRA, NGOs and organizations that receive foreign donations have to share personal details, bank account details and bio-data of their trustees with the government. Also, banks have to provide online access to the Home Ministry and Intelligence Bureau (IB) for monitoring the utilization of accounts of all FCRA-registered associations.

According to the amended rules, any foreigner associated with an NGO, who is visiting India, will have to furnish his/her details with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), spelling out the purpose as well as the dates of the visits.

The NGOs are mandated to list all their activities and declarations on a website, and register themselves under one of the nine Indian Acts: Societies Registration Act, 1860, Indian Trust Act, 1882, Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, Religion Endowments Act, 1863, Charitable and Religious Trust Act, 1920, Mussalman Wakf Act, 1973, Wakf Act, 1954, Public Wakfs Act, 1959 and Section 12 A of IT Act.

Misuse of foreign funds is rampant and there have been numerous instances in the past ┬álike e.g. KP Yohannan’s Believers Church about which we had reported in the recent past (The article can be read here). It shows how KP Yohannan siphoned off charity funds donated by devout christians and built his personal empire by using charity money meant to reach the poor and needy of India, to build for-profit hospitals and schools, and buy huge land tracts.

According to a 2015 report Believers Church received the second highest amount of foreign contribution. The Believers Church India, based at Pathanamthitta, Kerala had Rs 190.05 crore directed as donations from US, Canada, UK, etc.

There is a viewpoint that some of the provisions of the amended FCRA are ‘draconian.’ However, MHA officials don’t buy this line of logic. They clarify that there is no attempt to clamp down on NGOs; indeed, arrangements are in place to make the entire procedure transparent. They point out that on many occasions, the NGOs are not even aware of the rules and procedures to be followed, hence a process of educating them has been initiated.