Why India needs stricter laws to regulate NGOs

·5-min read
Shiv Sena members protesting against Islamic preacher Zakir Naik on July 9, 2016 in New Delhi. Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Shiv Sena members protesting against Islamic preacher Zakir Naik on July 9, 2016 in New Delhi. Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

As Shiv Sena leader, former MLA, former police officer, and encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma is arrested in connection with the Antilia bomb scare and Mansukh Hiran murder cases, we learn about his NGO – PS Foundation.

As per the website www.ngolist.net, the NGO operated in areas of ‘Art & Culture, Biotechnology, Children, Civic Issues, Disaster Management, Education & Literacy, Aged/Elderly, Environment & Forests, Health & Family Welfare, Human Rights, Labour & Employment, Legal Awareness & Aid, Micro Finance (SHGs), Minority Issues, Sports, Tribal Affairs, Women's Development & Empowerment, Youth Affairs’, whereas the website of PS Foundation states its involvement in ‘Women Empowerment, Healthcare, Essentials, Education, Security and Nationhood, and Environment’.

It is intriguing that a person with a shady track record could get permission to run an NGO. Now if learned sources – who are in know of things in the Maharashtra state police apparatus have to be believed, a businessman trading in precious metals has accused Pradeep Sharma of allegedly extorting money in the form of donations to his NGO.

NGOs are a vehicle for citizens to voluntarily come together and work to promote social values and agenda that are close to their heart. It is a fact that the government cannot reach everywhere and help everyone. This is the reason governments across the world permit and support NGOs to undertake social and community service activities in various areas of the individual/(s) and group/(s) interest.

However, if we observe closely, along with plethora of NGOs doing yeomen service to the society and the nation, there are numerous NGOs that are involved in subversive activities and many NGOs are started and managed by individuals and groups of questionable backgrounds and intentions. Everyone from criminals to terrorist organisations to urban naxals are using NGOs as fronts for their activities. This also helps them in creating a respectable image and gaining acceptance of the masses. This also raises concerns on their sources of funds and the final motive for which those funds are utilized, and how it impacts the country.

PS Foundation is not alone. There are many NGOs who are involved in such illegal and undesirable activities. Many NGOs have violated the laws and are being investigated by investigating agencies. Many NGOs have lost their permissions from either Income Tax authorities or Ministry of Home Affairs. At the same time, many NGOs are facing inquiries.

In the recent past, terrorist organsations like the Popular Front of India have been charged for money laundering, instigating and funding Delhi Riots 2020 and anti-CAA protests, and paying fees to lawyers representing Shafin Jahan in Hadiya Case. The Enforcement Directorate is now probing PFI and the Income Tax Department has cancelled / withdrawn exemption available to PFI under section 124AA(3) of Income Tax Act, 1961.

This is not the lone case. In 2016, radical Islamic preacher and agent provocateur Zakir Naik’s NGO Islamic Research Foundation was banned for five years under anti-terror law for its alleged terror activities. This is how NGOs are used as a front to further terrorist activities.

Similarly, we have seen NGOs like Vanashakti getting involved in stalling Mumbai Metro Car Shed development in the name of Save Aarey Campaign. However, it is surprising that the same NGO is now silent when land in Aarey and Sanjay Gandhi National Park is being given to real estate developers and film studios.

During the UPA government’s tenure, NGOs had started a similar campaign to stall the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project and three NGOs lost their licenses and permissions to operate. The then Minister incharge of Prime Minister’s Office V Narayanaswamy (of the Congress) accused NGOs administered by Tuticorin Church leader Bishop Yvon Ambroise of receiving Rs 54 crore in foreign funding and diverting it to fund Kudankulam protests.

In the anti-Sterlite protests in Tuticorin, it was later revealed that a London-based NGOs was involved in inciting violent protests and NGOs in India aided this UK NGO. This is how NGOs are involved in sabotaging industrial and infrastructure development and activities.

In other words, this is economic sabotage and NGOs in India are involved in this on behalf of their foreign masters and are getting foreign funding for the same.

There are other cases of NGOs like Lawyers Collective facing CBI and ED inquiries on account of FCRA violations. NGOs like Sabrang and CJP managed by Teesta Setalwad and her husband Javed Anand, are facing inquiries due to diversion of funds.

In another case, four NGOs connected with Christian organisations faced suspension of FCRA license because the funds were used for proselytism. This is in violation of FCRA.

In wake of increasing number of cases of violation of various laws, and involvement of NGOs in terror, criminal, other illegal, and economic sabotage activities, it has become imperative for the government to tighten and strengthen the regulatory mechanism and provisions to ensure criminals, terrorists and ‘urban naxals’ cannot use NGOs as their front for all such activities.

There is a need for stricter laws, rules, regulations, screening mechanisms and compliance to ensure such individual/(s) and / or group/(s) cannot further their illegal and anti-national agenda using NGOs as a front.

Along with stricter check and compliance, there is a need to ensure that shady and criminal individual/(s) and group/(s) must not be issued NGO permissions and approvals and a review of these permissions and approvals must be done on a continuous basis to ensure that wrong and undesirable persons cannot continue to operate using NGOs as their fronts.

Sumeet Mehta is a Chartered Accountant by qualification and author of ‘Diagnosing GST for Doctors’, published by Books18. He tweets from @sumeetnmehta.

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