MHA denies info on FCRA citing 'national interest'

MHA denies info on FCRA amendments citing 'national interest' as NGOs battle fund crunch

NGOs have approached Delhi and Guwahati High Courts against the amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, 2010

Venkatesh Nayak will be approaching the Central Information Commission with a second appeal. Credit: Pixabay Photo

An RTI showed that the Centre denied information, including Cabinet Notes and file noting, on the new amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, 2010 citing "national interest", which have adversely hit NGOs in their Covid-19 operations.

Transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak had in October-November last year filed two RTIs seeking information on Cabinet notes, file noting, inter-ministerial consultations and other correspondences but even after an appeal, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has declined to provide information.

Last September, Parliament had passed amendments to the FCRA, which stipulated NGOs to open a link account in an SBI branch in Delhi. It also prohibited any NGO to transfer foreign funds to any other person and asked to provide Aadhaar numbers of its Trustees and office bearers. Due to the pandemic, many NGOs are unable to complete formalities and are not able to get foreign funds that could be used for Covid-related work. They have been asking the government to keep the amendments in abeyance.

Read | Emergency use of foreign-made vaccines on the cards, says Union health minister Harsh Vardhan

To queries on information like Cabinet Notes and official documents held by the MHA on the issue, the MHA cited the 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act and said the information held by the Ministry has "fiduciary relationship with multiple stakeholders and disclosure of the same is not likely to serve larger public interest".

On file noting and correspondence held by the Ministry in paper and electronic form, the MHA cited "national interest".

"As the Act's regulations intend to safeguard national interest (security strategy or economic etc) of the state, the requested information may impinge upon the elements of Section 8(1)(a) of RTI Act. Hence it may not be disclosed," it said.

As the information was denied, Nayak submitted first appeals on the two RTIs in February and the decision came last month upholding the earlier decision. It said, "It is found that disclosure of the information in this matter will not serve any public interest. It may undermine the relations of state with foreign states and also hit strategic and economic interests of the state."

Read | Thinking of mixing Covid-19 vaccines? Read this

"If there is no public interest in disclosure, then why was the FCRA amended and the new Rules notified? Those actions are guided by what the government thinks is in the public interest, namely, the need for imposing a stricter and tougher regulatory regime that will make it more and more difficult for most NGOs to receive foreign funds," Nayak, who will be approaching the Central Information Commission with a second appeal, told DH.

"The NITI Ayog is also holding online meetings with around 1,000 NGOs to help fight the pandemic on the one hand while severely impeding their ability to attract funds from abroad to deliver in areas where the government's reach is minimal if non-existent. It is also quite audacious for them to ask NGOs what they have done to fight the pandemic and mitigate the suffering of people like they did last year while trying to cut the flow of funds to such organisations," he said.

NGOs have approached Delhi and Guwahati High Courts against the amendments. An NGO has moved the Delhi High Court against the provision that these organisations should open a bank account in Delhi while another has approached the Guwahati High Court against the provision of providing Aadhaar numbers of its functionaries.