India’s top court has agreed to examine amendments made to a federal law that regulates foreign funding into the country after non-government organizations (NGOs) argued the changes hampered charity work.
The Supreme Court, however, refused to stay the implementation of the law–Foreign Contribution Regulation (Amendment) Act (FCRA), 2020.
A three-member bench headed by Justice A. M. Khanwilkar on Sept. 7 admitted the petitions challenging stringent provisions of the amended FCRA and directed the federal government to file its response within three weeks. The next hearing is on Oct. 5
The Catholic Church is one of the beneficiaries of foreign funds and donations for its charity works across the country.
The petitioners, Noel Harper and Nigel Mills of Share and Care Foundation in Andhra Pradesh, and Sister Lissy Joseph and Annamma Joachim of the National Workers Welfare Trust in Telangana, said the amendments had severely restricted the use of foreign funds to serve the poor and needy.
This coupled with an official government diktat to open bank accounts in the designated branch of an Indian multinational public sector bank in New Delhi latest by June 30, 2021, had posed further difficulties for them, the petitioners said.
Advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanana, the counsel for the petitioners, said: “There are around 23,000 NGOs in the country that receive foreign donations. Ordering them to open accounts in the main branch of a particular bank in New Delhi was not only at variance with standard norms applied to other fields but is also cumbersome and discomforting”.
“I had to close my current FCRA account and open another one in a government-designated bank,” Sister Lissy told UCA News on Sept. 13. “I had to spend over a week to open an account in New Delhi, traveling from Telangana in the south to the national capital in the north.”
A foreign funds beneficiary who did not want to be named told UCA News that the amendments had virtually clipped the wings of many NGOs that contributed immensely to social welfare.
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for the federal government, assured the apex court of filing a response to all the issues raised in the petitions.
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He argued that the changes made to the law were aimed at monitoring the flow of money from foreign countries to institutions and individuals in India and also to ensure against its misuse.
Some NGOs were misusing foreign funds taking the advantage of the ongoing pandemic situation, the government contended.
The amendments were brought into effect from September 2020 after making major changes in the old provisions of the FCRA, 2010, like prohibiting an NGO from transferring foreign contributions to any other person or organization unless registered and authorized by the law.
Such provisions, a Church official said, had been “effectively curbing foreign donations into the country and its disbursement among the beneficiaries”.
The Indian government has canceled the registrations of more than 20,600 NGOs and associations in the last 10 years for violations of various provisions of the FCRA.
The government claimed its increased demands on NGOs were aimed at “strengthening the compliance mechanism, enhancing transparency and accountability.”
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