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Foreign funds: ok only for some

When Supreme Court draws distinction between NGOs and political parties, the irony is unmistakable
The court reportedly declared that the government cannot deprive NGOs of their right to receive funding from overseas by naming them political organizations

The Editorial Board   |   Published 12.03.20, 06:48 PM

In its nationalist ardour, the Narendra Modi-led government turned a suspicious eye on foreign funds for non-governmental organizations during its first stint. Many NGOs had had their licences confiscated or their funding from foreign sources cut for violating some provision of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. Funding from external sources for voluntary organizations dropped 40 per cent in the four years leading up to 2017-18, and 13,000 NGOs lost their licences. Recently, in response to a plea by an NGO challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions of Section 5 of the FCRA that permit the government to stop foreign funding if it considers an NGO political in nature, the Supreme Court clarified the issue. The court reportedly declared that the government cannot deprive NGOs of their right to receive funding from overseas by naming them political organizations. Voluntary bodies seeking to awaken people to their rights could use means of dissent such as bandhs if the need arose. As long as there was no political association or link to any party, these NGOs could not be called political organizations. The bar in the FCRA was meant for political parties, not non-political bodies. The court’s distinction between means and ends is of great importance. Fighting for people’s rights, often in the face of indifferent or exploitative authorities, or dissent against the ruling dispensation, cannot be silenced by depriving NGOs of funding.

It is not just the Supreme Court’s ruling with regard to the Centre’s attitude that is ironical. The Election Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court almost exactly a year ago against the lack of transparency in funding caused by the implementation of the electoral bond scheme and, more telling in this context, the Centre’s decision to amend the FCRA to allow foreign funding of political parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party is supposed to have been the greatest gainer via electoral bonds. No doubt it expects the same of foreign funding — and this is apart from the huge issue of corporate interests in Indian elections.Mr Modi’s party seems to think that all available money should come to the BJP. The Supreme Court in its recent ruling added that foreign funding should not be allowed when political parties use organizations to channel the funds. The irony is almost comic.



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