Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised "acche din anewale hain (good days are round the corner)", the voluntary sector thinks otherwise. They say the recent controversy over an Intelligence Bureau report on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is a prelude to the tough times ahead for them. Scores of reputed philanthropic organisations, which have, since about two years, been barred from receiving foreign funding (without any reason being cited for this by the home ministry), are yet to get sanctions in this regard. "This has impacted our activities and we have to cut corners to stay afloat," said a senior official of an international NGO. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorised to speak to the media. Akke Boere, director, Medicines Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), shared this view. "We have been meeting home ministry officials, but (they) didn't clearly say when we would get the permission. They told us they were reviewing the policy," Boere told Business Standard. She added her organisation had put its expansion programme on hold due to the funding issue. Activists say the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had initiated steps to tighten the noose around the voluntary sector after a section of the civil society had stepped into politics and formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The anti-Kudankulam nuclear plant agitation strengthened the government's resolve.
It blacklisted and froze the accounts of many NGOs involved in the agitation. "Till now, the government has not been able to prove the charge or take the investigations against them to the logical conclusion," said an activist. In the past alone, the ministry of home affairs cancelled the registrations of about 4,000 NGOs, under the Foreign Contributions Registrations Act (FCRA), 2010, without even intimating the entities concerned, activists alleged. According to the provisions of FCRA, if bank accounts of a registered organisation are frozen, investigations have to be completed in 80 days. "These investigations have to be conducted in a time-bound manner, giving a fair chance to the other party to present its case. We have cases in which investigations have been going on for the last two years. In such cases, the victim can neither get funds, nor go to court," said Harsh Jaitli, chief executive, Voluntary Action Network India, an umbrella organisation of NGOs. If any organisation was found guilty of violating the law, it should be dealt with sternly, he added. Activists said the government had been acting against NGOs with a vengeance since social activist Anna Hazare had launched his anti-corruption agitation. "After some social movements entered the political arena, there was a huge question mark about the intention of such movements in the minds of the people. This has given the government a handle to stifle social movements," said P V Rajagopal, noted Gandhian and president of Ekta Parishad. Rajagopal says the government has been devising new measures to destroy social movements by raising credibility issues and tightening foreign funding laws such as FCRA. Many say often, the government's data on funds being received under FCRA by the voluntary sector are "misleading". "The latest annual report of the FCRA department indicates only a fraction of the money being transferred to the country is for the voluntary sector. Major beneficiaries are religious institutions and corporate academic institutions registered as not-for-profit institutions," said Jaitli. The FCRA department's annual report clearly proves this point. It says, "During 2011-12, a total of 22,702 associations reported receipt of foreign contributions amounting to Rs 11,546.29 crore. Among the associations that reported the receipt of foreign contribution, the World Vision of India, Chennai, received the highest amount (Rs 233.38 crore), followed by the Believers Church India Pathanamthitta, Kerala (Rs 190 crore), the Rural Development Trust, Ananthapur, Andhra Pradesh (Rs 144.39 crore), the Indian Society Of Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, Delhi (Rs 130.77 crore), and Public Health Foundation of India, Delhi (Rs 130.31 crore). Rajagopal says NGOs, which are spearheading movements for tribal welfare and human rights, are being branded "Maoists" and being targeted. "Besides, India feels it is an economic superpower and, therefore, it doesn't need foreign funding. The government discourages foreign agencies from funding the Indian voluntary sector," he adds.