New Delhi: The Centre on Sunday introduced the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020 in the Lok Sabha to make the earlier law more stringent and make Aadhaar mandatory for registration and to give the government powers to stop utilisation of foreign funds by an organisation through a “summary enquiry”.
The Bill, which seeks amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, proposes to include “public servants” in the prohibited category and decrease administrative expenses through foreign funds by an organisation to 20 per cent from 50 per cent earlier.
Moving the Bill on behalf of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, his junior and Minister of State of Home Nityanand Rai said this law does not breach the right of any organisation if they follow the law and do not get distracted from their purpose. “We only take action against any organisation under the rule when they do not follow the law. Where is the breach of their rights in it?.”
Citing former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s statement which he made at a time while bringing FCRA law on August 19, 2010, Rai said: “Mr Chidambaram had mentioned in his statement that there are now around 40,000 working organisations. My biggest problem is that half of the organisations do not give details of their foreign contribution.”
Based on the Supreme Court’s judgment on Aadhaar, the minister said “we are making it mandatory for the directors of those organisations so that the government could know their identity and address. There is no discrimination in the law. All religions are being given equal rights to receive foreign donations in religious activities as per the provisions in earlier law.”
“The law does not discriminate in any religion. Our aim is to ensure that the organisations receiving foreign contribution should not distract from their purpose and their activities do not affect the country’s internal security. The money should be used for the same purpose for which it is donated,” the minister said. Now there is a provision to open accounts in State Bank of India (SBI), said Rai, along with arrangement that the organisation can open these bank accounts from their place and they do not need to come to Delhi.
Opposing the Bill, Congress leader Manish Tewari said the situation was different when the law was made in 1976 but it has changed since then.
“This law has been used for the last six years against those who go against the government.” TMC’s Saugata Roy said this is another example of “big brother watching”.
“The purpose of FCRA law was to keep control on foreign contribution, not to stop the contribution. Now, the freedom of people who are doing good work in rural and tribal areas is being hampered. Why did the government not arrest people if such kind of illegal activities were being noticed. Not a single conviction under this law has been made so far,” the MP said.
Congress’ Leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also raised objection against the Bill pointing to the Aadhaar issue and said the current amendment will give unnecessary power to the government. The Bill was to be introduced by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to strengthen the earlier Act as it was noticed that several organisations “misutilised” or “misappropriated” those funds received from foreign countries leading to the government cancelling 19,000 such registrations in the past few years.
“The annual inflow of foreign contribution has almost doubled between the years 2010 and 2019, but many recipients of foreign contribution have not utilised the same for the purpose for which they were registered or granted prior permission under the said Act,” the Bill’s statement of objects and reasons says.
“Many of them were also found wanting in ensuring basic statutory compliances such as submission of annual returns and maintenance of proper accounts. This has led to a situation where the Central Government had to cancel certificates of registration of more than 19,000 recipient organisations, including non-governmental organisations, during the period between 2011 and 2019.”
It further mentions that criminal investigation also had to be initiated against dozens of such non-governmental organisations which indulged in outright misappropriation or misutilisation of foreign contribution.
Seeking to amend clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 3 of the Act, the government has proposed to include “public servants” also within its ambit, to provide that no foreign contribution shall be accepted by them. Earlier, it was restricted to legislators, election candidates, journalists, print and broadcast media, judges, government servants or employees of any corporation or any other body controlled or owned by the government.
It has also sought to prohibit any transfer of foreign contribution to any other association or person. Amendment of section 17 of the Act has sought to provide that every person who has been granted certificate or prior permission under section 12 shall receive foreign contribution only in an account designated as ‘FCRA Account’ which shall be opened by him in such branch of the State Bank of India at New Delhi, as the Central Government may, by notification, specify. It has, however, allowed the organisation to transfer these funds to another account for utilisation.