New Delhi non-committal on funding curbs on U.K. NGOs

New Delhi non-committal on funding curbs on U.K. NGOs

India voiced concern to British officials over ‘anti-India activities of certain extremists’

United Kingdom officials discussed foreign funding restrictions placed on the Oxfam and other British NGOs with the Modi government last week, requesting the Union Home Ministry to reconsider its decision to deny Oxfam India’s registration renewal application under the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA).

The request came during a virtual meeting the British Permanent Home Secretary Matthew Rycroft had with Union Home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, one of a number of high-level exchanges ahead of a possible visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson later this year. 

“The issue was raised by United Kingdom [officials], and they were explained the process [of FCRA renewals],” a government source told The Hindu, confirming that the request had been made, but adding that India had given the British side no assurances on whether the cases would be reviewed, as the MHA had decided to do with the Missionaries of Charity, whose registration request was denied around the same time, but subsequently restored. However the sources said the U.K. had not raised the issues “formally” or in writing yet.

At the meeting, India expressed concern regarding “anti-India activities of certain extremists and radical elements in the U.K,” a statement by MHA had said.

According to diplomatic sources, the delegation had also raised the denial of FCRA registration to UK-NGO Freedom Fund, which was one of 10 American, Australian, British and European NGOs dealing with environmental, climate change and child labour issues, who had lost their licenses due to what the government called “adverse inputs” on their partnerships in India.

Oxfam India is one the country’s largest NGOs that works on food, clothing, shelter and medical projects. On January 1, 2022, the MHA had issued a list of about 6,000 NGOs whose FCRA registration or license to receive foreign funds had ceased to operate as the Ministry refused to renew their application or the NGOs did not apply for one. The MHA had not given specific reasons for the non-renewal of Oxfam India, Oxfam India Trust and others, but said the decision had been taken in “public interest”, without further details. 

Protesting the MHA’s denial of its application on January 2, Oxfam India’s CEO Amitabh Behar had said in a statement that it would “severely affect the ongoing humanitarian and social work in 16 States across the country” and would also affect the Covid-19 response programme distributing medical equipment and support initiatives. The non-renewal also meant that the NGO lost access to over ₹62 crore in its designated bank accounts, that came from international donors including Oxfam-UK (Rs 7 crore), Oxfam- Australia (₹3.1 crore), Oxfam-Germany (₹2.8 crore), and Stichting Oxfam International- Netherlands (₹7 crore).

Oxfam subsequently filed a review petition with the government on January 14, but while the MHA acknowledged receipt, it has not communicated any decision in the matter.

Significantly, Mr. Rycroft is understood to be well-versed with NGO funding issues as prior to being appointed Home Secretary, he was the Permanent Secretary at the Department for International Development (DfID), the British government’s aid arm, which was closed and merged with the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in September 2020.

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