This year saw NGOs, government at odds

NGOs and the government were at each other’s throat this year as several actions of authorities appeared like muzzling dissent by invoking national interest and calling activists anti-national and anti-development.

This year, the government did extra work on NGOs as it poured through account books of NGOs to find out whether they were acting against the  “national interest” and hampering the “economic interests” of the country.

The action against NGOs came against the backdrop of the NDA government’s uneasiness with NGOs, as it believes that many of them were involved in activities that are stalling India’s development through foreign-funded protests. In this exercise, Greenpeace India lost its registration and permission to receive foreign funds, Modi-critic Teesta Setalvad-led NGOs faced the CBI probe and suspension of licence to collect foreign donations. Ford Foundation was put on prior permission list and around 10,000 organisations lost permission to collect funds from abroad. While taking action against it, the government argued Greenpeace India’s use of foreign funds has “prejudicially affected” public interest and country’s economic interest. It was stalling India’s development through foreign-funded protests. The Intelligence Bureau had in 2014 blamed the NGO for “raising obstacles” to India’s coal-based energy plans.

One of Greenpeace activists Priya Pillai was offloaded from a London-bound plane as she was to brief a group of UK lawmakers on their agitation against Mahan coal block.

Another activist Aaron-Gray Block was deported to Australia as soon his plane landed in Bengaluru.

The government got a rap on its knuckles when the Delhi High Court ruled Pillai’s offloading as illegal. The court also had ordered de-freezing of Greenpeace bank account.

However, the government went ahead with cancelling its permission to collect foreign funds. Acting in unison, the Tamil Nadu government also cancelled its registration. The matter is sub judice now.

Setalvad’s NGO Sabrang Trust, which is in the forefront of taking on Modi in connection with 2002 Gujarat riots, also faced trouble with the government claiming there was transfer of foreign funds to organisations, which did not have permission to receive it. It was also claimed that there was a diversion of foreign funds for personal use.

Ford Foundation faced trouble after the Gujarat government complained to the Centre regarding its funding to Sabrang Trust.

Activists were not convinced with the government’s argument based on national interest and economic interests. “The actions of some officials in the MHA, and the resultant shrinking of the space for constructive dialogue have served to tarnish India’s international standing as a country that respects free speech and democracy,” Greenpeace India said recently.

On its part, the Union Home Ministry sought to streamline the process of seeking permission to collect foreign funds. In a bid to ensure transparency, it came up with an online process of application and submitting of applications. However, to keep a close watch on foreign funds and its utilisation, it amended rules to ensure that banks inform the Centre about NGOs utilising foreign funds within 48 hours of the transaction.

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