ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Prosecution and Judge

Can the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act be insulated from the political executive?

Over the past couple of years, the Government of India has wielded the stick against non-governmental organisations (s) which it dislikes. The main weapon in its hand when acting against those who receive funds from abroad (after getting the necessary approvals) has been the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA). The National Democratic Alliance government has raised the use of the FCRA to harass s to a high art, but it is not the first one to arbitrarily deny and/or withdraw approvals to pesky s. Unfortunately, a headline-hungry media that reports on every alleged violation of FCRA against select s has largely failed to educate the public about other, equally pertinent, provisions of this law that are routinely violated.

It has taken a writ petition fi led in the Supreme Court by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and retired senior bureaucrat E A S Sarma to remind us that the very people hounding the NGOs are themselves falling foul of this law. The FCRA’s enactment in 1976 grew out of a paranoia perpetuated by Indira Gandhi that certain foreign powers were interested in undermining India’s democracy. Instead of being reviewed after the Emergency, it was amended several times and replaced by the 2010 Act that put in place a system of registration for those accepting foreign contributions. Apart from the NGOs, the law bars broadcast media, any candidate standing for election, journalists, editors, publishers, judges, employees of government-owned industries, members of any legislature, political parties or their offi ce-bearers from receiving foreign contributions or hospitality without prior permission.

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