India on Tuesday criticised remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressing concern over the restrictions on foreign funding for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in India and the arrest of activists in the country.
Bachelet specifically cited as “worrying” the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits the receipt of foreign funds “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest”.
“We have seen some comments by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on an issue relating to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). India is a democratic polity based on the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Framing of laws is obviously a sovereign prerogative,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
“Violations of law, however, cannot be condoned under the pretext of human rights. A more informed view of the matter was expected of a UN body,” it added.
Bachelet earlier appealed to the Indian government to “safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent”.
“India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of groundbreaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally,” she said in a statement. “But I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices.”
Bachelet said the FCRA, which was adopted in 2010 and was amended last month, has been invoked over the years to “justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies.
“I am concerned that such actions based on the grounds of vaguely defined ‘public interest’ leave this law open to abuse, and that it is indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceive as critical in nature, she said.
As per the amended FCRA law, furnishing of Aadhaar numbers by office-bearers of NGOs has become mandatory for registration. The Act also provides for reduction in administrative expenses of any NGO receiving foreign funding, from 50 per cent to 20 per cent of annual funds to ensure spending on their main objectives. Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai had said in Parliament that the legislation was not against any NGO and was an effort to maintain transparency.