According to VANI the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2020 was approved by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha this week Credit: Screengrab

Grassroots organizations that are attached to the Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) are appealing the President of India not to sign the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2020. VANI is an apex body of Indian NGOs.

According to VANI, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2020 was approved by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha this week without proper deliberation and consultation. The NGOs feel that the amendment is a deathblow to civil society, especially the smaller organisations that work in the most remote areas and serve hard-to-reach communities.

VANI and other civil society representatives spoke out in a discussion with media on Thursday and said that there was also a call for continued collaboration among Indian organizations with the crippling and untimely new rules being set out by the government.

VANI CEO Harsh Jaitli said that the development sector is already a victim of general negativism and this will unfortunately impact the work of grass-root organizations passionately working in the remote areas. He added, “The sector has worked diligently to serve all our citizens but it is coming under scrutiny and all those organizations that have been doing outstanding work and adhering to all the rules are now being punished for no reason.”

Director of Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ashoka University, Ingrid Srinath observed that the amendment is not only atrociously ill-timed as civil society is having to cope with and respond to multiple crises, but also against international law. According to Srinath the bill appears not to understand the scope and nature of NGO roles, seeking only to limit them to a last mile delivery mechanism. “International donors including diaspora Indians, the most generous in the world, depend on intermediary organisations to identify suitable grassroots organisations to support. The ban on re-granting will seriously hamper this function,” added Srinath.

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The statement issued by VANI said that at a time of COVID-19, NGOs have stepped out and worked with government and with fellow NGOs with a sense of fraternity and compassion. This Bill will render all such cooperation, collaboration and camaraderie impossible. “The pandemic is not over, and it is our view that more of mutual support and the fraternal spirit is the need of the hour, not an eye of suspicion towards those who collaborate and cooperate,” added the statement.

VANI also states that the scientific research NGO community (not least in the flourishing health sector) will be sharply hit at a critical time, as new rules prohibit collaboration with other Indian organisations.

Even Hasina Kharbhih, founder of the Northeastern IMPULSE NGO Network, said, “In a democratic India, FCRA Bill 2020 is not friendly to non-profit organizations. The amendment is going to restrict their freedom and control the NGO’s groundwork. We have been supported by international funds for this long, but the amendment will challenge our work on the ground. Many small NGOs in North East India doing good work will be affected. A lot of money especially during disasters has come from foreign donors. We also face communication challenges in remote areas. The liberty of nonprofits are to do development and human rights work — this amendment makes it restrictive and challenging.”

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While during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic civil society’s role was welcomed by the government, the NGOs across India are in a crisis to find ways to work together and even survive. “Non-profits are committed to the advancement of India” was the common voice during the discussion.

Therefore, civil society will continue to inform and work with all stakeholders – including the government, to find ways to overcome the challenges from the FCRA Bill Amendment stated the release.

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