Indian Government Cuts NGO Funding, Access to Foreign Donors

The government of India has canceled foreign donation licenses for more than two hundred local nongovernmental organizations, forcing many of them to suspend or shutter their operations, the Associated Press reports.

With the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing the NGOs of engaging in "anti-national" activities, the organizations see the cutting off of their foreign sources of funding, and intimidation and harassment by government agencies, as part of a broader effort to suppress dissent in the country. NGOs whose licenses under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) have been withdrawn include the Institute of Public Health, which has worked, with federal and state governments and the support of foreign funders like the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, on anti-tobacco campaigns; Navsarjan, which runs special schools for Dalit children, who face discrimination and violence in regular schools; and the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), which has opposed government plans to build new nuclear power plants and promote genetically modified crops.

The FCRA does not spell out the basis for why a group's activities could be deemed harmful to the nation's interests and allows for no arbiter or appellate authority to hear challenges of the government's decision. INSAF, which is challenging the cancellation of its license in court but cannot receive any new funding until the case is resolved, was told the government was not "obliged to reveal the reasons for its actions."

For its part, the Modi government denies that politics played any part in the licensing decisions. "All nongovernment organizations are supposed to follow FCRA rules," K.S. Dhatwalia, a Home Ministry spokesperson told the AP. "Any violation is being dealt with under the law. There's nothing beyond that."

Tensions between Modi's government and NGOs and their foreign funders have been rising in recent years. In 2015, the Home Ministry placed the Ford Foundation on a list of organizations that are not allowed to fund Indian nonprofits without government permission. After similar crackdowns in Russia and Hungary, many activists see the move as part of a global wave of conservative governments acting to narrow the scope of civil society.

"All our work in the social sector has come to an abrupt halt," said Navsarjan founder Martin Makwan, who noted that appeals for local donations have failed to make up the shortfall. "We hope to keep the schools running till the end of March, but after that we won't be able to pay teachers' salaries."