Date: 11 October, 2020
by Divya Menon, UILS, Panjab University
WHAT IS THE FOREIGN (REGULATION) AMENDMENT BILL 2020?
First brought in as the Foreign Contribution (regulation) Act, 2010 by the Parliament of India to regulate the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution by foreign individuals or companies and to prohibit such acceptance and utilisation that might be detrimental to the national interest.
The FCRA Bill, 2020 was unanimously passed by both the Houses of the Parliament on 23rd September, 2020.
The applicants (any NGO) must now provide AADHAR details of all its office-bearers as the identification document.
It also grants the government powers to stop utilisation of foreign funds by an organisation through a "summary enquiry", earlier it was done only after the person or association has been “found guilty” of violation of the Act.
Amendment of Section 17 of the Act has sought to provide that every person who has been granted certificate or prior permission under Section 12 shall receive foreign contribution only in an account designated as ‘‘FCRA Account’’ which shall be opened in such branch of the SBI at New Delhi, as the Central Government specifies.
Amendment of Section 3(1)(c) to include “public servant” so that no foreign contribution is accepted by a public servant.
The Bill provides that the government may conduct an inquiry before renewing the certificate to ensure that the person making the application is non fictitious and not being prosecuted or convicted for offences against national interest.
Earlier the Government could suspend the registration of a person for a period not more than 180 days. The Bill adds another 180 days.
WHY WAS THE AMENDMENT PROPOSED?
According to the Home Ministry, the Annual inflow of Foreign contributions doubled between 2010 and 2019 and the contributions were not utilised for the purpose for which permission was granted.
The Home Ministry flagged alleged misuse of foreign donation by many prominent NGO’s including, Greenpeace, Amnesty International. Lawyer’s Collective, Compassion International among others.
The Home Ministry said that the Bill would help facilitate genuine NGO’s working for the betterment of society.
The said Bill would allow the Central Government to cancel the certificate of those found guilty or being prosecuted for creating communal tension.
CRITICISM OF THE BILL:
The International Commission of Jurists criticised the Bill for failing to comply with India’s International legal obligations and the provisions of the Constitution.
The UN Human Rights Council in its Resolution 22/6 on Protecting Human Rights Defenders declared that, “no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the origin of funding”.
The ICJ noted that the restrictions in the Bill continued a larger pattern of threats and harassment faced by civil society in India. And that the Bill seeks to stigmatize certain NGO’s working as human rights defenders.
Ian Siderman, Director of ICJ Legal policy said, “The Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament only four days after it was tabled, and without any stakeholder consultation. This hasty law-making that clearly undermines human rights and the work of civil society, is yet another attempt by the government to destabilize the functioning of democratic institutions in India.”