Saturday, May 07, 2005

Foreign funded NGOs under scanner

In a move that has left non-government organisations (NGO) in Gujarat rattled, the state government has ordered an inquiry into all NGOs getting foreign funds.

The organisations feel this is yet another attempt by the government to harass them, particularly those who do not fall in line with the ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The inquiry is being seen in the light of Chief Minister Narendra Modi's statement in the tribal district of Dahod on 17 April 2002 that " these five-star activists of NGOs are serving their own interests."

A circular issued by an additional DGP on 7 March 2005 asks police stations to follow a specific procedure of inquiry. They have been asked to provide names and addresses of all the office bearers of these NGOs and to find out if they have a criminal past.

The police have also asked to find out if the NGOs are capable of "misusing" these foreign funds and give their opinion on whether the NGOs should be allowed to receive foreign funds in the future. An official of a prominent NGO said, "The police specifically wanted to know if we had projects in the tribal belt with foreign funding."

Although the NGOs have so far cooperated with the inquiry, they say the exercise is futile because the Union Government conducts its own inquiry before giving them permission to bring in funds. Besides they also submit their annual reports to the charity commissioner.

"This is a routine exercise, started mainly by the intelligence department," Vadodara police commissioner Deepak Swaroop says. "The aim is to ensure that NGOs use the funds for what they are meant for."

"Before allowing an NGO to accept funds under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 1976, the Union Home Ministry conducts an elaborate security check," a member of a top NGO in Vadodara says. "Even the state intelligence bureau is asked to dig into the background of the organisation. This is also the first time that a policeman has knocked at my door," he adds.

To ensure that the police are not accused of an anti-minority bias, the list that the Vadodara police received from Gandhinagar includes Gujarat Ecology Society, Heritage Trust, Deepak Charitable Trust, Bal Bhavan, Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, Parsi Panchayat, Shroff Foundation and even the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

For Muslim-run organisations, however, this exercise is not new. "Every year, a police official turns up at our doorstep asking for details of our activities," secretary of one such organisation says. "We give them all details except those related to FCRA. They can get the details from the Centre or from the charity commissioner."

(Source: The Times of India)