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Foolhardy attack on a renowned institution

The suspension of its FCRA licence comes about six months after the Income Tax Department conducted 'surveys' on it
Last Updated 08 March 2023, 20:00 IST

The government’s decision to suspend the Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA) licence of the country’s premier think tank, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), is wrong, and again sends out the message that independent opinions and views are not welcome. The CPR is an important social science research institute which has studied issues related to India’s polity and society and has contributed to a better understanding of issues in those areas. It has been in the crosshairs of the government for some time just as many other institutions and NGOs have been.

The suspension of its FCRA licence comes about six months after the Income Tax Department conducted “surveys” on it, the non-profit Oxfam India, and the Bengaluru-based IPS Media Foundation. The surveys were followed up with summons to staff and notices warning of cancellation of tax exemptions. The process has now culminated in the suspension of the FCRA licence.

The FCRA regulates financial contributions from abroad and a suspension or cancellation of the licence under it is meant to choke an organisation of funds. The government has cancelled over 6,600 FCRA licences in the last five years, forcing many organisations to stop their activities relating to charity or educational or social work. The CPR has said that it has not violated any laws and followed due process.

It has also said that it has been regularly scrutinised and audited by government authorities, including the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). One question that has been put to it is why its employees, including a peon, have not regularly filed IT returns. It has also been told to explain why it has gone beyond its mandated functions by supporting the publication of books by its researchers. It is an absurd question to ask a research institute and think tank.

Institutions like the CPR are essential for the country for the functioning of its democracy. India aspires to be a developed country and a knowledge society. That goal is impossible to achieve without independent and fruitful research into various aspects of State and society and free flow of information. Movements of ideas, scholars and funds across borders are needed for such research and studies. The State has the right to restrict such flows on considerations of national security. But in many of the government’s actions against organisations like the CPR, there is no such justification and defence. India does not have many institutions of global high standing in scientific studies and social science research. The government should be promoting institutions like the CPR, which have kept the intellectual flag flying high, instead of trying to choke and shut them down.

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(Published 08 March 2023, 19:01 IST)

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