We went through this interview with Mr Mathew Cherian on rediff.com and thought of responding to some of his statements with the facts as we see it.
Mr Mathew Cherian is the Chief Executive of Helpage India and is also Chairperson of VANI – Voluntary Association Network of India.
Let us go through the issues Mr Cherian has raised one by one:
Statement No 1: “What they did first was cancel the licenses of 10,700 NGOs en masse on some flimsy reasons like somebody submitted a report a day late. All this was done without any show cause notice.”
Our Response: On examination of facts, we find that notice was served to NGOs that had not filed FCRA returns, after giving them a year
Licenses were cancelled in 2015, for organizations that had received notices in 2014 and had failed to comply
Further, 4138 NGOs had had their FCRA license cancelled in 2012, under UPA, for the same reason.
It may be noted that many of the notices had been returned since the NGOs were not functioning at address provided. Thus, this amounts to either furnishing false information to the Government or failing to provide statutory information to the Government in case of change of address.
Statement No 2: “In the Lawyers Collective case the reason given was quite flimsy; that Anand Grover from the NGO spent $50 on an ISD call when he was in the US.”
Our Response: Contrary to Mr Cherian’s statement, the allegations against the lawyer husband-wife duo of Ms Jaising and Mr Grover are quite serious.
Let us go over the charges against Ms Jaising:
- Ms Jaising was involved with FCRA-funded Lawyers’ Collective at the same time that she was the Additional Soliciter General of India. FCRA clearly says that ‘Judge, Government servant or employee of any corporation or any other body controlled or owned by the Government;’ is not allowed to accept funds from abroad under FCRA – ref. Sec 3(1) of the FCRA Act, 2010 here.
- Further, Law Officer Service Rules clearly state that it is an appointment made by the Central Govt for a period of 3 yrs and with mutual notice of 3 months. Hence, all Law Officers can be taken as employees of Central Govt, and so FCRA restrictions applied to Ms Jaising.
- The next restriction is on her holding office of profit with Lawyer’s Collective. Again, service rules are very clear. Section 8(1) of service rules states that Law Officers can only represent accused persons with permission of Government. It may be noted that Ms Jaising was paid nearly Rs 1 crore as fees by Lawyer’s Collective, of which she and her husband are Secretary and President, respectively. By this appearance she has flouted service rules of the post of ASG.
- Next, her utilization of foreign funds for dharnas and lobbying MPs for legislation is clearly in contravention of Section 5 of FCRA Act, which states no organization of a political nature can accept funds. Also, a MHA notification from 2006 states clearly the list of activities that are permitted. Check page 38 here
As we can see, these charges are serious in nature and not as trivial as Mr Cherian seeks to portray.
Statement No 3:“NGOs used to get Rs 13,500 crore (Rs 135 billion) as FCRA which has come down to Rs 7,600 crore (Rs 76 billion).”
Our Response: While this is a true statement, this is not the full picture. FCRA contributions had risen drastically during the UPA years as this graph shows. It is only the sudden drying of cash flow that is of concern to Mr Cherian.
Statement No 4:“If a company has a right to receive FDI, an NGO also has a right to receive money from foreign sources.”
Our Response: This is a false equivalence. FDI is governed by strict laws and a list of uses the money can be put to. Until 2010, there were no restrictions on foreign contributions to non-profit activity. The FCRA Act, 2010, merely places a few restrictions on the uses to which this money can be put to, to safeguard national interest.
Statement No 5:“You have to look at Sections 12 and 13 of the law. Freedom of Association is a fundamental right. NGOs are fighting for legal remedies like we were associated with the RTI, right to education law, HIV/AIDS bill and the LGBT bill. When you prevent NGOs from doing so, you are preventing the marginalised from getting into association and fighting for their rights and justice.”
Our Response: There is no law in place to ban/restrict formation of NGOs or registration. There is indeed no ban on NGOs obtaining money for helping the marginalized get a level playing field. However, it may be noted that Mr Cherian focuses on legal activism and remedies, i.e., legislative lobbying and judicial activism, as the solution rather than field work and action.
This merely strengthens the influence of the few hundred people in key positions at NGOs, such as Mr Cherian himself, in setting the direction for this country, rather than effecting positive change on the ground. As to be expected, when an influential elite loses it’s privilege, it is bound to protest.
Mr Cherian’s interview and position may be seen as no more that such an elitist attempt to protect their position.