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NGOs’ ‘Foreign Hand’

Updated: March 14, 2015 9:15 am

Intelligence Bureau in its report accused Greenpeace of aiming to ‘fundamentally change the dynamics of India’s energy mix’ by actively aiding and encouraging public protests in Singrauli region of Madhya Pradesh
For the past four years, Greenpeace India, an arm of the global environmental group, has campaigned to stop a coal mine where it says would destroy the livelihoods of about 50,000 people, mainly from indigenous tribes, in India’s Madhya Pradesh state. It came to the limelight recently, when Priya Pillai, an environmental activist employed with Greenpeace India, was debarred from leaving India in January last by the immigration authorities and her passport was stamped ‘offload.’
She was going to attend a meeting of British parliamentarians in London, which was meant to apprise parliamentarians about the displacement of local populations resulting from the allocation of coal blocks in Mahan of Singrauli district in Madhya Pradesh. Priya has been working with local communities in Mahan, who oppose the setting up of an impending coal plant by top notch companies. When Priya asked about her ‘offloading’ she was cursorily told that her name was included in the database of individuals barred from travelling outside India. It was later come to the fore that the Intelligence Bureau had allegedly issued a ‘Look Out Circular’ against her. Priya challenged her offloading in the honourable high court of Delhi, on the grounds that it violated her fundamental right to liberty, including her right to travel abroad, right to non-discrimination, freedom of speech and expression and freedom to carry on her profession. In the response government submitted an affidavit in the court. According to the affidavit, the Look Out Circular has been issued in the ‘national interest.’ The affidavit further states that Priya was travelling to the UK to depose before a formal Committee of the UK Parliament with the motive of carrying out a campaign against the Government of India, in order to impact India’s image abroad, and at a time when India is looking forward to foreign direct investment in India’s infrastructure and manufacturing sector.

Background Note

Some months ago the present NDA government imposed certain restrictions on select NGOs on the basis of IB report entitled, “Impact of NGOs on Development” prepared by the previous UPA Government listing certain NGOs like Green Peace for leading high-powered campaigns against key development projects in the country ostensibly at the behest of foreign powers hostile to India’s progress. Subsequently, Ministry of Home Affairs sent notices to 21,493 NGOs registered under the FCRA (Foreign Exchange Regulation Act), 2010, for their failure to submit accounts as is mandatory under the law. But as per the CBI report submitted to the Supreme Court, only 10% of 22 lakh plus NGOs in India submit their tax returns to the Government. So why were only 21493 NGOs selected for notices? (Reported in The Hindu, January 6, 2015).

On January 1 2015, the NDA government clamped down on four US funded groups—namely AVAAZ (New York), BIC (Washington), 350.org (New York) and Sierra Club (California). According to RBI, these NGOs were not registered with the Government of India. The MHA has directed the RBI to freeze all foreign funding into the accounts of these NGOs.

Leading NGOs (NGOs) have dubbed this crackdown as political vendetta and accused the BJP of crushing political dissent in the country through these means. It is unfortunate that the government has not clarified why the clamp down is restricted to select NGOs whereas numerous others working on similar or identical issues have been spare


Broadly speaking, there are nine kinds of NGOs However their functions often overlap:

1) Advocacy groups: These NGOs pick up select issues and causes –such as environment or the cause of specific social groups perceived to be disadvantaged—such as women, SCs, STs, religious minorities—for advocacy campaigns. ANHAD, MAJLIS, Lawyers Collective, Centre for Science and Environment, Voluntary Health Association of India, Citizens for Justice and Peace fall in this category.

2) Consultancy and Research organisations working on social, political and developmental issues such as Centre for Policy Research;

3) Training/ Capacity Building organisations: Such NGOs claim to help other NGOs with capacity building programs of the staff of other NGOs;

4) Networking organisations: They provide supportive platforms for other NGOs in specific fields. AVARD, VANI and NAWO are examples of this type;

5) Service Providers: Secular NGOs involved in providing services to neglected populations by setting up schools, health centers, hospitals and undertaking rural development work. They directly work with select communities, both in rural and urban areas. Anna Hazare’s Hind Swaraj Trust, SEARCH founded by Drs. Abhay and Rani Bang are good examples.

6) National organisations: They operate at a national scale for specific vulnerable groups or causes as for example CRY, Help Age India, Concern India, etc.;

7) Religious NGOs: These include organizations setup by various denominational groups of various faiths—Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc. They may also be involved in servicing communities and undertaking development work in villages or urban slums. Many of them are aggressively pursuing proselytization backed by the enormous financial resources and political backing they get from foreign agencies. World Vision is a good example of such an NGO;

8) NGOs working for law and policy reform such as Lawyers Collective, PILSARC, Human Rights Law Network, Centre for Science and Environment;

9) International Mother NGOs: These are recipients of funds as well as givers. They have a work focus but instead of implementing projects they identify projects and monitor, evaluate and build capacities of other participating NGOs. CARE and Oxfam are examples of such mother NGOs.

However, these categories are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many NGOs are active in multiple domains.

Government Charges against NGOs

On the one hand, NGOs have come to acquire unprecedented influence and clout over policy and law making by the Government of India as well as defining political agendas and terms of public discourse in our country. They have been included in decision-making bodies of various ministries and key government departments.

On the other hand, the Government of India claims to have accumulated massive evidence of malpractices by foreign-funded NGOs. The charges include:

Misappropriation of funds, corruption scams, lack of transparency and accountability: CBI analysis of 22 lakh NGOs across the country showed that of the 22,39,971 NGOs functioning in 20 States, only 10% (about 2,23,428) submitted annual returns. In six of the Union Territories, of the 5,684 NGOs, only 50 filed their balance sheets. In the Northeast, none of the NGOs in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura file returns. ( as reported in The Hindu, January 6, 2015)

Indulging in political activity, including interference in electoral politics, in violation of one of the core conditions of FCRA rules and regulations, which specifically prohibit NGOs from engaging in politics.

Interventions in economic policies allegedly at the behest of foreign agencies causing enormous damage to India’s growth potential;

Endangering geopolitical security of India, including support to secessionist movements; Many NGOs claiming to be involved in “human rights”, “social studies and empowerment”, “rural development” are alleged to be fronts for India-based or foreign-supported extremist political organisations with socially disruptive agendas, damaging the delicate social fabric of India by indulging in proselytisation activities.


The whole issue came to the limelight when a “secret” report titled ‘Impact of NGOs on Development’ was sent to a host of government offices including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Coal, National Security Council Secretariat and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) in June last year by the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The IB named a long list of organisations and activists under its scanner, which encompassed not only well-known environmental and anti-nuclear groups but also little-known outfits. The report claimed that significant anti-development activities were undertaken in 2011-13, against nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the POSCO and Vedanta projects in Odisha, the Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar projects in Madhya Pradesh and hydel projects and extractive industries in northeast India. The report also assessed the negative impact of these on GDP growth to be near about 2 to 3 per cent.

This is not the first time that Greenpeace has figured in the IB list and its member prevented from flying abroad. In September last year, Greenpeace campaigner Ben Hargreaves—a UK national – was refused entry into India, despite having a valid visa. The Intelligence Bureau has accused Greenpeace of contravening with India’s coal-fired plants and coal-mining activities. In its report, IB maintained that all the protest movements against the coal blocks are “led, sponsored, mentored, funded and implemented in India by Greenpeace International.” Assessing Greenpeace as a potential threat to the national economic security, IB postulates in its report that Greenpeace “is using its foreign funds to create protest movements under a ‘Coal Network’ umbrella at prominent coal block and Coal- Fired Power Plant (CFPP) locations in India… . Activists have been focussed on ways to create obstacles in India’s coal-based energy plans and methods to pressure India to use only renewable energy.”
Intelligence Bureau in its report accused Greenpeace of aiming to ‘fundamentally change the dynamics of India’s energy mix’ by actively aiding and encouraging public protests in Singrauli region of Madhya Pradesh. The report states: “Since 2013, it has initiated protests in five project- affected villages of the Mahaan coal block (allotted to Hindalco and Essar) in Sangrauli, under the banner of Mahaan Sangharsh Samiti(MSS). It is also organising protests against the Sasan Ultra- Mega Power Project around the Sasan and Badhaur villages.”
People are questioning the motives behind the leak of these ‘secret’ reports. Some are claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apprehension of these NGOs has led to these leaks. In 2006, while launching a book, Modi expressed concern over the role these NGOs play in the country. He said: “Funds are obtained from abroad; an NGO is set up; a few articles are commissioned; a PR firm is recruited and, slowly, with the help of the media, an image is created. And then awards are procured from foreign countries to enhance this image. Such a vicious cycle, a network of finance-activity-award is set up and, once they have secured an award, no one in Hindustan dares raise a finger, no matter how many the failings of the awardee.” This statement was used by Intelligence Bureau to describe how certain foreign funded NGOs rose to prominence in the country.

Petition to PM to Ban Foreign Funding of NGOs & Set Up a National Social Service Fund to Support NGOs

Hon’ble Prime Minister of India,

7 Race Course Road

New Delhi.

February 17, 2015

Dear Prime Minister

Subject: Impartial Commission of Inquiry on foreign funded NGO’s and creation of National Social Service Fund to support genuine social service organizations.

We the undersigned request you for an appointment to discuss the following issue in detail.

Foreign funded NGOs (FFNGOs) have been on the government’s watch list for a while now. Both NDA and UPA governments have had serious issues with several such FFNGOs. But the actions taken against a select few do not appear to be the product of a well thought out policy.

The following is a partial list of charges against some of the FFNGOs:

  • Misappropriation of funds, lack of transparency and accountability: A CBI analysis of NGOs across the country showed that of the 22,39,971 NGOs functioning in 20 States, only 10% (about 2,23,428) submitted annual returns. Of 5,684 NGOs in the six Union Territories, only 50 filed their balance sheets. None of the NGOs in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura file returns. (The Hindu, January 6, 2015).
  • Political activism with foreign funds: FCRA rules and regulations specifically forbid the use of foreign funds for undertaking “political activities”. Yet a large proportion of FFNGOs have been indulging in a whole range of political activities, including campaigning for or against certain political parties during elections.
  • Motivated interventions in economic policies: Some leading NGOs have been in the forefront of mobilisingresistance against nationally important development projects (such as in the power sector) allegedly at the behest of foreign agencies causing enormous damage to India’s growth potential.
  • Endangering geopolitical security of India andproselytizing under the guise of “Development”: Many NGOs claiming to be involved in “human rights”, “social empowerment”, “rural development”, etc., are alleged to be fronts for India-based or foreign-supported extremist political organizations with socially disruptive agendas and have been found lending support to secessionist movements. Some Christian missionary groups, under the guise of “developmental” organizations, also carry out proselytization activities in India that often disrupt social harmony and end up damaging the delicate social fabric of India.

It is estimated that “of the 20 lakh registered NGOs and societies in the country, only 30,000 or so (about 1.5%) are actually doing developmental work” (www.outlookindia.com/article/Oh-What-A-Racket/221515). The widely-known Citizens for Justice and Peace is only one among many NGOsthat face serious charges of buying personal luxuries out of funds meant for victims or disasters.

As per the report published by the Home Ministry for the year 2011-12, some 22,702 NGOs reportedly received Rs.11,546crores as foreign contributions.It is widely believed that the inflow turns out to be much larger if non-legal flows as well as funds that come through UN system (which are not under the purview of FCRA) are added to these numbers. Apart from the FCRA or UN route, there are perhaps other lesser known routes of raising foreign funds. There are cases of NGOs like that of the world-famous Narmada Bachao Andolan,which does not even have a bank account and yet could run high-powered national and international campaigns to obstruct and stop major development projects.

Our Petition

To deal with the situation, the Government of India needs a coherent, transparent policy towards FFNGOs, both secular and religious. We appeal to the Government to:

  • Appoint an impartial Inquiry Commission: Constitute a high-powered Commission of Inquiry into the functioning and sources of funding of all foreign funded NGOs in India to discover:
  1. Whether the provisions of FCRA, including the provision forbidding political activity, are being complied with;
  2. The nature of the donor agencies funding NGOs in India and the stated and hidden agendas of those agencies;
  3. Evidence of corruption, if any, in the utilisation of foreign funds;
  4. Linkages of FFNGOs with secessionist and other antinational outfits, if any;
  5. Evidence of hawala transactions, if any;
  6. Use of foreign funds for political activities including lobbying and campaigning.

However, this requires that “political activity” bedefinedrigorously. For instance, are advocacy campaigns for enactmentof new laws to come under “political activity”? Do campaigns against selected political parties in the name of “combating communalism” constitute political activity or not?

  • Restrictions on foreign-funded activism or on lobbying with foreign governments: While this Commission of Inquiry carries on with its investigations, we urge the Government to enact a law banning the use of foreign money for carrying out political or religious activity in the country. While political and religious freedoms—including critiquing development projects perceived to be harmful—are guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, these rights must be exercised with locally raised resources. There also needs to be a ban on NGOs lobbying with foreign governments to seek punitive action against India under the guise of protecting human rights or religious freedom.
  • Create alternative sources of funding for social organisations within India: The Companies Act 2013 requires corporate entities to spend at least 2 per cent of their profits on societal good. For proper utilisation of these corporate social responsibility funds, these should be compulsorily deposited into a National Social Service Fund under the charge of an autonomous body on the lines of the Election Commission of India. This body should have a set up in every state capital. Voluntary agenciesengaged in providing social services, creating educational institutions, running advocacy campaigns, human rights work etc., may be funded through this National Fund in a transparent manner based on well-defined rules and procedures.
  • Demand transparency of accounts from NGOs: It should be mandatory for FFNGOs to post details of income and expenditure on their websites, apart from submitting duly audited accounts to tax authorities every year.

We look forward to an early response to our petition.


Madhu Purnima Kishwar & Others

It is worth noting here that it was not Modi who ordered investigation in relation to these NGOs, but it was former Home Minister P. Chidambaram who had revealed that some NGOs were under the watch for misusing foreign funds in mobilising resistance to the Kudankulam nuclear plant in early 2012. Even former PM Manmohan Singh criticised NGOs for their role in these protests. During an interview for Science magazine, he said, “What’s happening in Kudankulam…the atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply.”
India has tens of thousands of NGOs, including local arms of global charities and local groups, working on a wide range of issues, including the position of women in the society, urban safety, human rights, environmental protection, healthcare, agriculture and clean energy.

Economic Editors' Conference-2012,
Previously, foreign-funded charities mostly worked in the sectors such as healthcare, education and training, especially in remote areas where state had limited presence. More recently, these have moved from mere social service provisions to work on policy advocacy and empowerment of the minority groups.
This paradigm shift is what every successive Indian governments have found nasty, especially for the past decade, when successive governments started to woo private investment into mining, infrastructure and heavy industry, only to have projects stalled by resistance from the local communities, sometimes backed by urban activists with foreign funding.
According to the much publicised IB report, nearly 50 per cent of the 43,527 NGOs registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) flouted its norms and did not file their annual returns for 2011-12. In this report, while groups working on human rights and the environment have particularly drawn the IB’s ire, there is nothing wrong in putting all NGOs under the radar. There is no clarity on the legality of many of these organisations. Most of them do not disclose their income and expenditure in sufficient detail. And there is no reason why the beneficiaries of income tax exemption should not be answerable to people under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The Delhi high court put it bluntly in March last year while seeking strict licensing rules and legislation in the sector seeking “Most private-run so-called philanthropic organizations do not understand their social responsibilities. Ninety-nine percent of the existing NGOs are fraud and simply moneymaking devices. Only one out of every hundred NGOs serve the purpose they are set up for [sic].”

By Nilabh Krishna

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