Home Ministry may have erred gravely in canceling FCRA licenses of NGOs

Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya | First published: 8 November 2016, 18:45 IST
Home Ministry may have erred gravely in canceling FCRA licenses of NGOs
Arya Sharma/Catch News

In what may soon become a major embarrassment for the government, it appears that the Union Home Ministry has shown stark arbitrariness in canceling the FCRA licences of several, if not all, NGOs.

The ministry had recently announced that over 11,000 NGOs had lost their foreign funding registration because they did not apply for renewal of their license in time. According to the ministry, 11,319 NGOs had not applied for renewal of registration by the 30 June deadline this year and the validity of their registration was "deemed expired from 1 November 2016".

Those who applied for renewal have also been refused licenses in an arbitrary manner.

At least two such NGOs shared with Catch email conversations between their officials and the FCRA department in the ministry.

The conversations clearly document the arbitrariness in refusing to grant renewal of their licenses. An email to one of these NGOs from 'dirfcra-mha@gov.in' says, "Your application has been refused due to following reasons: Your application for renewal is refused". The email indicated that the department gave no reason for non-renewal and merely repeated a robotic reply.

Another email to the second NGO from the same email-id - 'dirfcra-mha@gov.in' - says, "On the basis of field agency report, the competent authority has decided to refuse your application for renewal."

This is only a more verbose version of the same response and indicated, again, refusal by the ministry present give a legitimate reason.

Understandably, the NGOs are perplexed and at a loss in trying to understand why this action has been initiated against them. In these circumstances, only one explanation emerges - a witch-hunt - like the one carried out against Greenpeace and Amnesty International previously.

Home Ministry has gone 'very wrong': Legal expert

The NGOs have sought legal advice in the matter and the word that they have received is encouraging for them and damaging for the government.

A Supreme Court advocate clearly said that the Home Ministry "has gone very wrong" in issuing these last-minute refusals and that the actions "betray, once again, its utter lack of understanding of the Scheme and provisions of FCRA, 2010."

Cancellation and renewal of registration, according to the advocate, are two separate mechanisms under Section 14 and Section 16 of the Act, with each of them being "mutually exclusive, comprehensive and exhaustive in itself". Simply put, the government can not use refusal of renewal as cancellation of registration.

"The mechanism of renewal given under Section 16 is meant to accrue once every five years at the end of the tenure of any registrant and is also meant to be comparatively simpler, more straightforward and provide a narrow area of discretion to the Central Government. The underlying logic is that the Central Government had the power to cancel registration at anytime during the five years. If it has not done so, then all proper applicants are entitled to a quick, speedy and smooth renewal."

Due inquiry must establish reasons for cancellation