In continuation with the earlier post on FDI and FCRA, this is another one on Government's discreet versus discrete ambivalence.
Civil Society in the world’s largest democracy is vibrant and has been actively involved in addressing many of the ills that have plagued the country hitherto. This has also lent them credibility as contributing to nation building by partnering government in implementing various schemes and welfare measures. Civil Society Organizations receive support for carrying out their activities from their membership status, government, corporate houses, individual donations and family wealth, national and international foundations. If one were to compare the difference between the amounts of funds coming in for ‘for-profit sector’ with for ‘non-profit sector’, then it is hardly any different from carrying out an exercise in absurdity, for ‘such’ vast a gulf exists. Government of India has made various mandatory provisions under registration clauses for such organizations that generally go under the name of regulatory norms. These regulations hold Civil Society Organizations accountable for contributing to income tax, seeking permission to have a non-profit status, to name a few.
Foreign Contribution Act, 1976 (Caution: pdf file) was one such regulatory mechanism, which was subsequently replaced by Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA) in 2010 (Caution: pdf file). The FCRA Rules under the Act became a reality in 2011, which possessed certain provisions that called for constraining the democratic space these organizations had full rights to. What is being alluded to here is Section 3, which impinges upon dissenting voices, which are so very crucial for the healthy functioning of democracy. The Section was even objected to be certain parliamentarians who called it an infringement mechanism on constitutional rights like ‘freedom of association’ and ‘freedom of expression’. That, such provisions in the Act and Rules left ample room for manipulation and misuse was the common apprehension. These apprehensions were duly realized, when cases after cases of FCRA suspension of Civil society Organizations started multiplying over the last two years. The common rationale for such suspensions was Civil Society showing solidarity with actions pertaining to people’s causes, thus behaving like political actors and violating Section 5 of the FCRA Rules, 2011. The Section puts down any politically motivated endorsement by Civil Society Organizations at the discretion of Central Government to decide on its continuing to draw financial support from foreign contributors. So, unless a non-profit organization accepts to play a puppet, the government could manipulate and misappropriate facts to its suitability.
What is ironical here is the distinction drawn by the Government, especially since the early 1990s between ‘for profit sector’ and ‘for non-profit sector’, whereby the regulatory mechanism for the former pertains to Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), 1974 translated into Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999, while for the latter, Rules get introduced making regulations more stringent and discrete. Moreover, FCRA 2010 and FCRA Rules 2011 are often shrouded in suspicion for being anti-people, and hence are governed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, thus breaching the ‘Equality Before Law’ principle. If parliamentary democracy is devoid of associations that question, dissent that is correctional in nature, and accountability that is empowering the political and social ethos of its citizens, then such participatory democracy is soulless, and swims against the tide of constitution-enabled rights. As a functioning democracy, we need accountability on all fronts and at all levels, not selective applications of laws, primarily with the purpose of stifling dissent and democratic rights to form associations and work for people's cause, Section 3 (1) (f) of FCRA 2010 and Rule 3 of FCRA Rules 2011 precisely do that. And, for a healthier spirited democratic values and respect for its citizens, all suspensions of Civil Society Organizations aided under FCRA be revoked, and suitable changes be made at the earliest in Section 3 and 5 of FCRA Rules 2011 to rid of any ambiguity.