Indian Supreme Court rules in favour of curbs to foreign funding of NGOs
The appeal filed by a number of associations against the reform of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which affected many organizations active in assisting the poor, including the Missionaries of Charity, has been rejected. For the judges, there is "no shortage of donors in India". Babu Joseph: "But the rules must be applied in a non-partisan manner. When will there be the same demand for transparency in the financing of Indian parties?".
New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The New Delhi Supreme Court has ruled that it is legitimate for the government to set limits to the possibility for Indian organizations to receive contributions from abroad.
This was established on April 8 with a verdict on an appeal filed by some associations against the contested new text of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, approved in 2020 and whose entry into force has led to major problems for many NGOs and organizations linked to missionaries active in the country.
The affair even involved the Missionaries of Charity who, on Christmas Eve, had their request for renewal of their license to receive funds from abroad rejected. The decision was then overturned in January, after the international echo of the affair and the presentation of new documents by virtue of which the Sisters of Mother Teresa were granted a new permit that will be valid until 2026. Precisely the high margin of discretion in the issuance of permits had been challenged in the appeal.
“Receiving foreign donations cannot be an absolute or even a vested right,” the court said. “It is open to the State to have a regime which may completely prohibit receipt of foreign donation, as no right inheres in the citizen to receive foreign contribution [donation].”
“Such being the expanse of the effect of foreign contribution coupled with the tenet of constitutional morality of the nation, the presence/inflow of foreign contribution in the country ought to be at the minimum level, if not completely eschewed,” the court said. The judges said that there was “no dearth of donors in India” and added that charitable organisations should focus on donors from within the country.
The court also upheld the validity of Article 17 of the law, which requires NGOs to open an account for foreign contributions at a branch of the State Bank of India in New Delhi. It added, however, that in order to apply for authorization it should not be indispensable to present the Aadhaar (the Indian identity card), but a passport should suffice.
The Court's sentence has not dispelled the concerns of the many NGOs active in India alongside the poor. In fact, the fear remains that many organizations committed to promoting the rights of the poor will be targeted through this tool. More than three months after the controversy, in fact, there are still only 16,896 associations to which the license has been renewed, compared to over 22 thousand active at the end of 2021.
Fr. Babu Joseph, SVD and former spokesman of the Indian Catholic Bishops' Conference (CBCI), commented to AsiaNews: "We respect the judges' point of view on the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act; but the point is that this regulation on civil society organizations must be implemented in a non-partisan and transparent manner. Some of the cases in which registration was cancelled or punitive actions were initiated were based on dubious grounds, which lends credence to the belief that the NGO sector is being targeted. Even with their flaws, these entities continue to do a lot of good in society, especially among those the government does not reach. If indeed there were no longer a need for them in India, we should not still have citizens languishing below the poverty line."
"I also agree," Fr. Joseph continues, "with the Court's observation that without controls on foreign donations there is the possibility of misuse to the detriment of the country. This logic, however, should not only apply to civil society organizations but also - for example - to political parties whose funding systems are very opaque. I would like the emphasis on transparency to be extended to all levels of government in India: only this will create a level playing field for all," he concluded.