Government of India has faced serious criticism over some of its recent controversial orders. Even after revamping the economy and creating a positive environment in the country after NDA govt came into power last year, it has faced criticism from various sections of the society. From irresponsible statements made by its MPs to controversial land acquisition bill amendments, from imposing ban over porn websites to serving notices to 3 television media channels, government has been on the receiving end.
Among recent developments, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has cancelled Greenpeace India’s registration last week. Five months MHA cancelled its license for receiving foreign donations. MHA has taken the harsh decision alleging the Environment NGO of concealing and mixing the foreign donations with local donations under Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). The MHA has alleged that the NGO is running anti-development campaigns. On April 10, 2015 the government had suspended Greenpeace India’s licence to receive foreign donations, citing reasons such as “talks” with the AamAadmi Party (AAP), attempts to “delay and place illegal obstructions to India’s energy plans”, “campaigning, protesting and lobbying against government of India’s policies”, an anti-nuclear “full page colour advertisement in The Hindu with a sarcasm-laced header”.In its report, the government also mentioned a campaign against an Indian tea brand, which Greenpeace claimed contained hazardous pesticides.
The latest step by the Ministry of Home Affairs simply cancelling Greenpeace’s registration was but an expected next stage in the chain of events leading to a gag that is meant to choke. The obvious assumption is that without funds Greenpeace in India will not be able to function. This has come even as a petition from Greenpeace seeking release of funds to pay its staff, and alleging arbitrariness in the government’s action, is before the Delhi High Court. The action taken under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) — which many NGOs say is a bad application of a poorly drafted piece of legislation — means Greenpeace will not be able to receive any foreign donations. The move has made other NGOs vulnerable too; they face a tough choice, of either complying with the government’s line, or fading out. The media have reported that the invoking of the provisions of the Act followed certain actions by Greenpeace that were deemed inimical to the economic interests of the state. Everything from placing advertisements in newspapers to organising protests against the Kundankulam nuclear plant to anti-nuclear activism, was deemed inimical. Already there is word of some NGOs trying to tailor their activities to suit the interests of the government. What can a democratically elected government possibly achieve by enforcing such compliance and conformity?
Need to amend FCRA
FCRA was enacted in 1976 and was amended in 2010. it has come in for criticism not only for the overarching control it seeks to have over people-based movements but also for the guidelines framed around it. The MHA is now changing the rules, spelling out what NGOs are required to do, even seeking to scrutinise their social media engagement. Whether the MHA should be looking into expenditure incurred by an NGO to teach street children, for instance, is a moot question. There is hypocrisy involved when some political parties are free to receive corporate donations, especially from abroad, without any questions asked. Equally, all NGOs must respect the law of the land, maintain transparency and remain above board: admittedly, there are some black sheep. Most of them comply; some don’t. But that should be no excuse to gag. Civil liberties and free speech go hand in hand. The government will be ill-advised to trample on these.