Foreign funding law contravenes international law, says UN expert

Association

While the state has not engaged in widespread repression against CSOs, some organisations have been subject to close scrutiny under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) and have had their registration suspended as a result. In April 2016, a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai, concluded that the FCRA contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In June 2016, reports concerning a statement made by the Minister of State for Home Affairs on NGOs carrying out ‘unauthenticated’ activities made oblique reference to a secret ‘watch list’ of 18 foreign donors allegedly involved in supporting such activities. In a more positive development, earlier this year, the government relaxed rules related to charitable giving by for-profit multi-national corporations in India, making it easier for them to give funding to local charities as well as political parties. The government has also recently relaxed tax laws relating to CSOs which generate more than 20% of their revenue from business activities. Instead of being deregistered as a result of this they will pay tax on revenue above the 20% limit. In another change, government supported Indian CSOs receiving foreign funding will now be covered by the mandate of the anti-corruption ombudsman law or 'Lokpal'.

Peaceful Assembly

Numerous padh yatras (marching campaigns) on the drought in Central and Western India have been allowed, where marchers criticised the state’s failure to mitigate this seasonal catastrophe.

Expression

While the right to free expression is generally upheld in India, on May 9th the authorities prevented tribal rights mobiliser and author Gladson Dungdung from the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement from travelling to the United Kingdom, on the grounds that his passport had been impounded in 2013. Mr. Dungdung is author of Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India, which discusses land grabs in tribal communities in tandem with the problem of Maoist guerrillas. Meanwhile, a Union Cabinet Minister called for the reform of NPO and CSO laws in order to create enhanced engagement in the sphere of development. CSOs have also been active in their dissent and criticism of alleged government interference, notably through legal measures such as the FCRA. A recent press conference by CSO activists on the diminishing civil society space was covered by major newspapers and electronic media, without intervention or hindrance from the authorities.