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Letter to Modi seeks cancellation of "coercive" anti-NGO orders, amendment of "opaque" foreign funding rules

By Rajiv Shah
Around 70 civil rights organizations have come together to strategize “a collective response to the stifling of civil society space” in the wake of the recent Government of India clampdown on NGOs, telling Prime Minister Narendra Modi that government steps are “coercive” in nature, are “without reasonable cause or due process”, and seek to “cripple” the ability of NGOs to “carry on their legitimate and sanctioned work.”
Asking Modi to “urgently review” all orders placing restraints on NGOs and “revoke” orders where due process has not been followed, the letter says, this should be particularly done in the case of INSAF, Peoples’ Watch, Sabrang Trust, Greenpeace India, Ford Foundation, HIVOS and ICCO, whose activities were sought to be stifled because of “vague, subjective or flimsy” grounds, without being offered any redressal mechanism.
The letter -- likely to be released on Tuesday -- comes close on the heels of the US State Department taking a serious view of the Government of India move to target Ford Foundation and Greenpeace India, saying it could limit "necessary and critical debate" in India.
It all began last year, when an Intelligence Bureau report said Greenpeace and other NGOs were “damaging” the country's economy by campaigning against power projects, mining and genetically modified food. The government moved against Ford Foundation this year following a controversial investigation into human rights activist Teesta Setalvad-run Sabrang Trust, which has fought tens of cases of 2002 Gujarat communal riots.
Headquartered in the Netherlands, ICCO and HIVOS fund projects which “oppose” discrimination, inequality, abuse of power and unsustainable use of our planet’s resources. The Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) is a national forum of over 700 movements and NGOs of India, while the People’s Watch has been monitoring human rights violations mainly in South India.
Asking Modi to “immediately initiate dialogue” between the NGO sector and the government to “address” NGO concerns, the letter says, the current the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) rules and regulations, under which they get foreign funds, are “opaque”, and should be amended to ensure “complete clarity and transparency on provisions and processes, as well as forums and mechanisms of redress.”
The letter expresses “deep concern” over the manner in which NGOs’ funds are being “frozen, intelligence reports are being selectively released to paint NGOs in poor light, disbursal of funds are being subjected to case-by-case clearance, and their activities are reportedly being placed on ‘watch lists’.”
“It does not behoove the government to label any and every conflicting voice on these issues as ‘anti-national’, ‘against national security’ or ‘donor driven’ and seek to create a public atmosphere that justifies ‘a crack down on NGOs.’ These very words shame any society. ‘Watch lists’ and ‘crack-downs’ belong in another age and have no place in a modern democracy”, the letter says.
The letter emphasizes, “In an increasingly globalized world, where even business interests freely collaborate across national boundaries, to label any individual or NGO that engages with international forums or any donor who supports such NGOs, as ‘anti-national’ is illogical.”
Recalling that many of the NGOs have collaborated with the government, while others have been critical of his government and also previous governments, the letter says, one may or may not agree each one’s views on issue of nuclear power, acquiring tribal and other lands, upholding Dalit rights, protecting minority rights. But, it tells Modi, “We expect that government protect our right to work and express our views.”

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