India Tightens Rules on Foreign Donations to NGOs

The Indian government has frozen the bank accounts of the Indian Social Action Forum, a network of more than seven hundred nongovernmental organizations, and issued new regulations aimed at preventing the network's member organizations from receiving foreign donations, the Washington Post reports.

In a letter to INSAF officials, the government said it had frozen the network's accounts and suspended its foreign funding approval because it believes the network's activities, which include advocating on behalf of indigenous people and against nuclear energy, human rights violations, and genetically modified food, are "prejudicial and against the public interest." In a note on its Web site, the network explained that it now has to request permission from the Home Ministry in order to access its bank accounts.

INSAF, which receives 90 percent of its revenue from overseas, is one of many groups targeted by the Indian government in recent years for criticizing its policies. According to the Post, trouble began a year ago after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed groups in the United States for fomenting protests that delayed the Russian-backed Kudankulam nuclear power project in power-starved Tamil Nadu state. Since then, about a dozen NGOs have had their foreign funding approval revoked, as have roughly four thousand smaller groups for what the government says is inadequate compliance with foreign funding reporting requirements.

The U.S. is the top foreign donor to Indian NGOs, followed by Britain and Germany. In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, some twenty-two thousand groups in India received a total of more than $2 billion from overseas, including about $650 million from U.S.-based agencies or organizations. Although government officials say NGOs can use Indian donations to support their political activities, NGO officials say that such funds are hard to come by.

"The government's action is aimed at curbing our democratic right to dissent and disagree," said Anil Chaudhary, a member of the INSAF network. "We dared to challenge the government's new foreign donation rules in the court. We opposed nuclear energy, we campaigned against genetically modified food. We have spoiled the sleep of our prime minister.... It is not a question about money, it is a fight for our right to dissent....I don't need dollars to block a road."

Rama Lakshmi. "Activists Bristle as India Cracks Down on Foreign Funding of NGOs." Washington Post 05/19/2013.