India Proposes Stiffer Law to Regulate Foreign Donations

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Christians fear new law will be misused against the church.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, August 3 (Compass) -- The Indian government has proposed a law to more closely regulate foreign donations for “anti-national activities.” Christian leaders in India fear the new law would be misused to reduce foreign donations to churches in India.

The Foreign Contribution Management and Control Bill (FCMC), proposed by the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) would replace the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of 1976. That law requires all Indian organizations and individuals having “a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social program” to receive clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs, by either registration or prior permission, before accepting foreign contributions.

In the new bill, section 12(3)(iv) states that an organization applying for registration must not have “indulged in activities aimed at conversion through inducement or force.”

The move to amend the existing bill was initiated by the former National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in 2000. The BJP alleged non-profit and non-governmental organizations were misusing foreign money for illegal and anti-national activities, including religious conversions.

Christian advocacy groups and organizations are concerned about the new bill.

“Indications are that the ... government might use the proposed law against the church,” John Dayal, national president of the All India Catholic Union and secretary general of the All India Christian Council, told Compass. “We must not forget that the former ruling BJP used the FCRA entirely against the church and against nonprofits that it did not like,” he added.

The new bill would give the Indian government more power to control foreign donations and to refuse or cancel the registration of non-profit organizations.

Section 5(1) of the FCMC Bill empowers the central government to define an organization as having “a political nature, not being a political party,” thereby prohibiting it from accepting foreign contributions.

Under Section 12(3)(ii), any individual or organization seeking permission to receive foreign funds must have a “meaningful project” for the benefit of “the people living in the district.” The term “meaningful project” is not defined. In addition, the nonprofit organization must show that it has projects in the city where it is located. This stipulation could be problematic for many nonprofits that concentrate their work outside the districts where their head offices are located.

Sub-Section (7) says that the certificate of registration will be given for a period of five years only. Current law provides the certificate indefinitely.

The government has sent the new bill to a group of ministers for scrutiny, an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs told Compass on condition of anonymity.

The official declined to comment on when the new bill would be introduced in Parliament.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India held a joint seminar on the existing legislation in New Delhi on June 24-25, presumably to unveil the new bill, the national daily Hindu reported on June 25.

The 1976 FCRA bill was passed when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi feared her rival, J.P. Narayan, was using foreign funds to build opposition to her government. According to Dayal, Gandhi’s Congress Party later used the FCRA against the church and other minority groups.

More than 30,000 organizations are registered under the FCRA, receiving a combined annual total of over 50 billion rupees ($1.17 billion) from foreign donors, according to the Hindu report.

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct