The UK government has asked for specific numbers over a period to drill-down on the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act by the Indian government around funding licences of non-governmental organisations, the House of Lords was informed during a debate.
Peers in the Upper House of the UK Parliament debated the issue on Thursday following a question raised by crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, asking what representations the British government had made to its Indian counterparts about the 'blocking of overseas funds for the Missionaries of Charity and other non-governmental organisations.'
The charity founded by Mother Teresa in Kolkata was recently denied an FCRA renewal along with other NGOs, a move the Indian government has said is a matter of 'routine processing' by the ministry of home affairs under 'well-established procedure and long-standing administrative practice.'
“We are aware of some non-governmental organisations that face difficulties in India due to the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act by the Indian government, and that some have recently had applications to renew their foreign funding licences rejected,” said Lord Tariq Ahmad, responding to questions on behalf of the UK government as minister of state in the foreign, Commonwealth and development office.
“On the issue of the licence in India, I have looked into this specifically, and we do not know why its applications were rejected. I have asked and pressed to see the kinds of numbers that currently exist,” he said, in reference to the Missionaries of Charity.
Lord Harries pressed the minister on the matter and questioned whether the action against the charity was to prevent people coming 'into contact with Christianity and eventually convert to it.'
“Among the 12,580 organisations whose licences have ceased to exist, some ceased to exist because they did not submit their applications in time, and others were rejected for other reasons. There are Christian NGOs, but there are also 250 Hindu NGOs and more than 250 Muslim NGOs, so whether this is specifically against Christian organisations is not shown by the data, but I am requesting further information in this respect,” Ahmad said in response.
Lord Alton of Liverpool asked if the government had studied the list of organisations which have lost their licences, which number “as high as 3,000”.
Ahmad, who holds the brief of Minister for South Asia, replied: “Because of the constructive nature of our engagement, we are able to raise this not just with the Indian High Commission here in London but in a constructive manner with the Indian government directly.
“The noble Lord points to specific numbers. As I alluded to earlier, I have asked specifically for a drill-down on the numbers over a period, so that I can analyse directly which organisations are impacted and the reasons why these licences have been revoked, to allow us to make much more qualified representation,” Ahmad said.
The debate, which involved a section of cross-party peers, covered concerns around international civil society organisations being hampered in their work to fight poverty in India and also raised the issue of organisations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam being “starved of funds” in India. Ahmad said the UK government had taken up the issue of Amnesty International directly but that it continues to 'provide challenge.'
“However, because of our lobbying and representations, we welcomed the recent high court decision in Karnataka which allowed Amnesty to access some of its funds,” the minister said.
The Indian high commission in London said it would not like to comment on a discussion between members of Parliament of the UK.
“However, on the subject: it appears to need reiteration that this is a matter of routine processing by India's ministry of home affairs -- of renewal applications for FCRA approval -- submitted by thousands of India-based entities including the Missionaries of Charity,” a high commission statement said.
“An examination of facts would make it clear that no single community, religion or source of funding has been particularly ‘targeted' or any accounts frozen by the government of India. It would be seen that all these applications for renewal of FCRA licences have been processed as per well-established procedure and long-standing administrative practice – which, in most countries, are recognised as a part of good governance,” the statement said.