Government to check funding of NGOs involved in ‘anti-national activities’

Narendra ModiIn a closed-door, high-level meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked top security officials to work with the state police to monitor how NGOs and groups suspected to be involved in anti-national activities are funded. Top sources said Modi recently expressed concerned over the subject, and that the Ministry of Home Affairs will engage with states to deal with the matter.

In the last couple of years, government agencies have brought numerous NGOs under the scanner for allegedly misappropriating funds and engaging in activities believed to be detrimental to the sovereignty of the country. Even the Supreme Court had observed last year that the Centre must frame rules to regulate government funding to NGOs. Around 30 lakh NGOs operate in India, but merely 10 percent of them file their balance sheets. This allows a large number of these organisations to freely operate without accountability and spend more than the Rs 900 crore the government grants them every year, besides the thousands of   cores that pour in as foreign contributions.

 

“A vibrant civil society is vital for democracy, but some recent incidents in India raised suspicion over the intent of some of these NGOs said to be fighting for a cause,” a top government officer said. “The apex court, too, had raised questions over transparency in civil society organisations, and a Central Bureau of Investigation report had clearly highlighted that a majority of these groups operate without any accountability. NGOs could be a tool for social change, but at the same time, this potent medium could be used for activities that may adversely affect the interests of the country.”

Article 19 (1) (C) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all citizens the right to form associations and unions, subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign nations, public order, decency and morality.

In 2017, the Supreme Court, in writ petition (CRL) No 172/2011, had directed the Government of India to frame guidelines for accreditation of NGOs, provisions for the manner in which those that receive grants must maintain their accounts and also for how the accounts of NGOs will be audited. The court had observed that guidelines must specify a procedure to initiate action to recover grants in case of defalcation, including criminal action when called for.

Robust monitoring mechanism required

The prime minister’s directive to have state police monitor the funding of NGOs and other organisations involved in anti-national activities is based on evidence that reveals huge sums circulating in the coffers of civil society groups and several organisations suspected to be involved in anti-India activities. Some like the Islamic Research Foundation headed by controversial preacher Zakir Naik were found to be using grants to radicalise youths.

NGOs are receiving nearly Rs 27,000 crore in domestic and foreign grants. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are approximately 25,000 active organisations registered under The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010. Records suggest that NGOs  received foreign contributions to the tune of Rs 18,065 crore for various social, cultural, economic, educational and religious activities in 2016-17. A majority of these NGOs also received funds from companies under Corporate Social Responsibility mandated by the government.

Former senior police officer VN Rai told Firstpost that the system to monitor NGOs needs massive reform, and there has to be a clear distinction between a good civil society group and organisations that are set up primarily to siphon off money.

Rai said NGOs play a vital role in raising issues crucial for society and nation-building, and the handful of organisations involved in unwanted activities can easily be controlled by laws. “There are many NGOs doing fantastic work in the social and environmental sector,” he said. “They are speaking up for the downtrodden and people living in the margins. But there are some NGOs that indulge in nefarious activities, and they may have the patronage of the government or administration of the day. The state police does monitor the working of such NGOs along with the home ministry, which keeps track of foreign funding. If the government wants, it can reform the system and install more checks and balances against NGOs working against the interest of the country.”

FCRA crackdown

On 1 June, Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh launched an online analytical tool to facilitate closer monitoring of the flow and use of foreign contributions organisations registered under the FCRA receive. The tool enables decision-makers in various departments of the government to scrutinise the source of the funds and their actual use in the country.

File image of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

File image of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

“It gives them the capacity to make data-driven and evidence-based decisions regarding the compliance of the provisions of the FCRA,” the ministry had said. “It has analytical features for big data mining and data exploration. Its dashboard will be integrated with the bank accounts of FCRA-registered entities through the Public Financial Management System for updation of transactional data on a real-time basis.There are hundreds of thousands of such transactions annually, which can be monitored effectively through this tool. It will, therefore, help stakeholders in the government to better regulate acceptance and utilisation of foreign contributions.”

In April, the ministry had issued notices to over 3,000 NGOs for not filing their annual returns from 2011-12 to 2016-17. Several NGOs were also found to have disappeared, including 369 in Andhra Pradesh, 431 in Uttar Pradesh, 299 in Delhi, 71 in Jharkhand, 126 in Madhya Pradesh, 519 in Maharashtra, 43 in Chhatisgarh and 262 in Bihar. Last year, the ministry had also cancelled the FCRA licences of 166 NGOs operating from Delhi, including that of the Public Health Foundation of India and the Centre for Alternative Dalit Media. Similarly, after a crackdown in Andhra Pradesh, the licences of 454 NGOs were cancelled.

Anil Chaudhary, coordinator of Delhi-based NGO INSAF, told Firstpost that the government had recently eased a few FCRA norms, with which voluntary organisations violating the rules may get away with it by paying a penalty. This move will only aid corrupt civil society groups and risk punishment for the good ones. INSAF’s FCRA licence was cancelled in 2013, and the Centre had also turned down its application for renewal, citing adverse inputs received from a security agency. In an affidavit, the government had said INSAF had violated provisions of the FCRA by transferring foreign funds to 15 non-FCRA registered NGOs and individuals who had actively campaigned against nuclear power plants and genetic modified foods.

“The fate of NGOs did not change even after the government changed from UPA to NDA,” Chaudhary said. “Both governments targeted NGOs doing significant work in various fields. They need to understand that if violations can be negated by paying a meager penalty, it will help only the corrupt NGOs. On the other hand, the government and its agencies already have mechanism in place to monitor movement of funds from one account to another of all NGOs receiving foreign funds. All entries in the bank accounts are duly reported to the government. Why the government requires more and intense monitoring is beyond comprehension.”

Foreign funding allegedly used to derail projects

In June 2014, an Intelligence Bureau report had revealed that some foreign donors cleverly disguise their donations as funding for protection of human rights, getting a just deal for people displaced by projects, protection of the livelihood of indigenous people, protecting religious freedom, etc.

Representative image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“A significant number of Indian NGOs (funded by some donors based in the US, UK, Germany and Netherlands) have been noticed to be using people-centric issues to create an environment that lends itself to stalling development projects,” said the Intelligence Bureau report reviewed by Firstpost. “These foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports, which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of western governments. Also, Dutch government-funded NGOs have slowly shifted focus from human rights in Kashmir to the twin issues of violence against women and prevention of extractive industries in the North East.”

In 2015, following reports that several NGOs were allegedly involved in anti-national activities, the government had asked spy agency Research and Analysis Wing to verify the antecedents of the donors and source of funding when the amounts exceed Rs 1 crore. The Centre had also said no foreigner can be an office-bearer or trustee in an NGO but can be associated only in an honorary capacity.

A three-tiered monitoring system

The government has argued in favor of setting up a mechanism to monitor the source of funds, which is the lifeline of voluntary organisations, and continue to monitor their expenditure. Last year, several government departments had worked out guidelines to create an enabling environment for civil society groups that could stimulate their enterprise and effectiveness and also identify mechanisms through which the government could work with voluntary organisations on the basis of mutual trust and shared responsibility while ensuring transparency and accountability. The Ministry of Rural Development had suggested uniformly instituting a three-tier monitoring mechanism for central government departments — comprising an in-house monitoring process — state-level and district-level monitoring committees as well as an independent third-party monitoring system, which may be operated by government think-tank NITI Aayog.

“Monitoring should not only look at the physical and financial aspects but also quality aspects,” the ministry had suggested in its draft guidelines. “Norms should be applied for the number of visits by monitoring entities and completion of a project should be linked to satisfactory performance. Performance audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, wherever necessary, at the ministry level or sector level may be done periodically. Fund-based accounting may be introduced for earmarked funds by the NGOs, and all grants received from the government should be separately accounted for.”

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Literary meet of Transgenders

Kolkata Set to Host India's 1st Transgender Poetry Meet, Faces Backlash from Critics

 

Kolkata: India’s first government-sponsored poetry meet for transgenders–‘Transgender Poets’ Meet’– is set to be held in Kolkata on July 17.

Six transgender poets and writers from West Bengal will be participating in the event, organised by Sahitya Akademi, an organization under the Union Culture Ministry.

Among those who are likely to participate in the meet are Rani Majumder, Aruna Nath, Anjali Mandal, Debdutta Biswas and Debojyoti Bhattacharya.

The idea to hold the event was put forward by Manabi Bandopadhyay, who is a college principal and a trans-woman. “We had organised Nari Chetana (Women Empowerment) Diwas on International Women’s Day. Dr Manabi Bandopadhyay suggested that we should consider organizing exclusive events for transgender writers and poets,” said Mihir Sahu, officer-in-charge, Eastern Region, Sahitya Akademi.Speaking to News18 Manabi Bandopadhyay said, “As a member of the advisory board of the eastern regional centre of Sahitya Akademi, I suggested that such events for transgender persons will help them to showcase their creativity. We are doing this on an experimental basis and I am sure we will get a good response.”

However, transgender activist Ranjita Sinha, who is also a member of the Bengal Transgender Development Board opposed the move and claimed that such events with a handful of transgender people would hardly enable the community establish their dignity in society.

“I was shocked when I came to know about this. I am sorry for my trans-brothers and sisters across Bengal. Since the NALSA verdict, we have failed to ensure basic human rights to the members of my community. Be it medical, employment generation or proper census of my community population, we have failed,” she said.

Sinha said that such literary festivals mocked the transgenders when less than one per cent of them are unable to attain basic education.

She also expressed her displeasure over Manabi leading the event. “I am equally shocked to know that our Vice Chairperson, Manabi, is taking the lead in this event. Is such an event is the current need of trans people? Or is it Roti, Kapda, Makan? In the coming days the starving, deprived, discriminated trans citizens are going to ask for an answer to this question,” said Sinha.

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India launches National Digital Library

On 19 June, the Union Human Development Minister, Mr Prakash Javadekar launched the National Digital Library in the country’s capital. The library is a source of millions of academic texts from around the world which will be open to the general public.

According to an official release by the Human Resource Development (HRD), the National Digital Library of India (NDLI) is a project of the Ministry under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT). The National Digital Library aims to make digital educational resources available to all Indian citizens to empower, inspire and encourage learning.

The work on developing and implementing the National Digital Library began in 2015; it was built by the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur using technology provided the HRD Ministry. The digital library is just one project under the Digital India plan that was initiated by Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi.

Mr Prakash Javadekar said that the National Digital Library will make learning resources available to users, the library has over 17 million source materials from more than 160 sources, in over 200 languages and according to the press release, around 3 million users are registered on the National Digital Library.

Apart from the website, the Ministry has also made the National Digital Library available on phones through its mobile application; the National Digital Library Mobile App will enable people to access a vast reservoir of digital content from not only the country but across the globe as well. Digital information will be able to reach users even the most remote parts of India.

Mr Prakash Javadekar said that the app, which already has 670,000 downloads, is currently available for both iPhone and Android users; learners can look for particular information using parameters like the subject matter, source, and content type etc. As of now, the app is available in three languages – English, Hindi and Bengali.

The National Digital Library uses a single-window system to increase efficiency through time and cost savings. The platform collects and organises metadata from leading learning institutions in India and from across the globe. It is a digital repository containing textbooks, articles, videos, audiobooks, lectures, simulations, fiction and other kinds of learning media.

According to Mr Prakash Javadekar, the National Digital Library is a round-the-clock knowledge centre that is will be made accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Anybody can access the digital library anytime and anywhere and will be contributing to the Government’s Read More India (Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat)plan that aims to improve the language and mathematics skills of the youth of the country, primarily.

The National Digital Library initiative will be able to help thousands of students in the country by providing free source material like textbooks and guides that were previously hard to come by, being both expensive and limited. The Minister of Culture, Dr Mahesh Sharma stated that the collaboration between the National Digital Library by Ministry of Human Resource Development and the National Virtual Library of India platform by Ministry of Culture will reach a large number of leaners in India and attract global attention with its progress.

The National Virtual Library of India, which is a part of the National Mission on Libraries of the Ministry of Culture, is also an online library with resources covering a large number of fields, including arts, music, dance, culture, theatre, science, technology, archaeology, literature, e-papers and manuscripts, among others. All of this information has been gathered, collated and presented on a single online platform- the website.

The National Digital Library will change the way education is accessed and presented in India, and through this initiative, every citizen in India will be given the digital tools and resources to empower themselves.

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Changing Society – Marijuana for Entertainment now!

Canada has legalized recreational marijuana use after the country’s two legislative chambers approved the Cannabis Act Tuesday, the CBC reports.

The bill will allow Canadian provinces to control and regulate how marijuana can be grown, distributed and sold, and it’s likely that sales will begin by the end of the summer. The Cannabis Act makes Canada the first Group of Seven nation, and the second country in the world (after Uruguay) to legalize marijuana for adults nationally.

The Cannabis Act still needs Royal Assent – the final step the Canadian legislative process – to become law, but that is expected to happen later this week. Built into the bill is an eight-to-12 week buffer period that will allow provinces to prepare for the recreational sale of marijuana. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will set the official date on which the law will actually go into effect.

Trudeau made legalizing cannabis part of his campaign platform in 2015, and in 2017 he introduced legalization legislation. On Twitter, the Prime Minister marked the passage of the Cannabis Act, writing, “It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize and regulate marijuana just passed the Senate.”

The Cannabis Act will make it legal for anyone over 18 to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana, while adults will also be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants at home. While the bill establishes a national framework for how the cannabis market will operate, each province will be allowed to set their own system of licensing and regulation.

Canada legalized medical marijuana in 2001, though the law required patients to grow their own plants or designate another individual to grow it for them. A 2013 legal challenge broadened the law to create a system of federally licensed producers, but that ruling was itself challenged three years later on the grounds that it unreasonably limited access and increased costs. Though the 2016 ruling didn’t explicitly make dispensaries legal, it encouraged the idea that such a business could operate so long as it was for strictly medical reasons. In the years since, a gray market of sorts sprouted up in various Canadian cities, with many dispensary operators growing increasingly comfortable as legalization approached.

 

 

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Handbook on legal process on crimes against children launched

The Union minister of women and child development Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday launched a ‘handbook on legal processes for police in respect of crime against children’ at a function organised by Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D).

Speaking on the occasion, Gandhi urged all stakeholders to unite in preventing and combating crimes against children. She highlighted that the government is committed to creating a nation free of violence against women and children. “The WCD ministry will work closely with identified stakeholders to ensure that this handbook is available in every police station, preferably in local languages,” she added.

She emphasised that the government has decided to take every step in addressing this issue in the best possible manner. One of the important requirements is to empower and skill the police agencies and other responders in addressing the crimes against children professionally and diligently, she added.

Further, she elaborated upon the services offered by child line and railway child line which have been highly successful in reuniting missing children with their families.

She also informed that a short documentary “Komal” has been released to sensitise the children on “good and bad touch”.

“Amendment in the Juvenile Justice Act has been brought about to treat juveniles 16 years of age as an adult for trial in heinous crimes,” she said.

She expressed the need for rape investigation kits in every police station to facilitate the investigation on priority basis. The issue has been taken up with HRD ministry to print POCSO related laws on front and back of all the textbooks to increase awareness among children. The minister also mentioned about the e-box complaint system for the school children to come up against the issues of sexual harassment.

Gandhi said she hoped that the book will prove to be a tool to enhance and fine-tune the skills of the end user in the application of the laws, rules, rulings and related provisions pertaining to crimes against children.

A handbook is a composite tool which will aid police personnel to chart a step-by-step procedure to be adopted in cases of crime against children. Legislations and the latest rulings of courts are also mentioned in the book.

A team led by Dr PM Nair of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has developed this comprehensive, user-friendly, process oriented document published by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) in partnership with TISS.

 

The publication is part of an initiative taken by BPR&D to partner with reputed academic and research institutions across the country in undertaking research and developing quality tools and knowledge products to enhance the professional competence of the Indian Police.

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