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9 Dec 2016

US heat melts NGO stick against Compassion India

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, TT, New Delhi, Dec. 8: The Centre is considering taking American child rights NGO Compassion International out of its foreign-funding watch list under US pressure, months after providing similar relief to the Ford Foundation.
"We are likely to reconsider our decision," a senior home ministry official said, acknowledging the move to review the curbs had come after US secretary of state John Kerry recently raised the issue with the foreign ministry.
Compassion International had in June been placed in the prior-permission category of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which requires it to seek the Union home ministry's clearance before contributing funds to any NGO in India.
American authorities had repeatedly opposed the restriction, imposed on the ground of "national security" after the Intelligence Bureau accused Compassion International of engaging in religious conversions and funding non-registered NGOs in India.
"We cannot afford to antagonise the Americans on the basis of an unsubstantiated report from the Intelligence Bureau," the home ministry official said.
"The US authorities have demanded all the evidence we have gathered against the NGO but we don't know what to do as the Intelligence Bureau report lacks any hard evidence. It's unfair to put curbs on an NGO on the basis of mere suspicion."
Setting the stage for a review, the Prime Minister's Office has sought a report on the NGO along with whatever evidence the Intelligence Bureau claims to have got, home ministry sources said.
Home ministry data show that Compassion International was the top foreign donor in 2012-13, having sent nearly Rs 190 crore to NGOs in India.
Earlier this week, the US House of Representatives' foreign affairs committee, chaired by India Caucus head Ed Royce, had slammed the restrictions on the NGO at a special hearing.
Royce had accused the Indian bureaucracy of being "dogmatic" and termed the allegations of religious conversions a "myth".
Foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup has accused the US House committee of showing a "limited understanding of India, its society, Constitution and laws". "There is a well-established legal framework for NGOs to conduct their operations in India," Swarup said. "This is borne out by the presence of over three million NGOs in the country, one of the largest NGO networks in the world. India welcomes lawful operation of foreign NGOs in India."
Days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's US visit in May, the government had taken Ford Foundation, put on the watch list last year, off the prior-permission category under intense US pressure.Ford had been put on the watch after the Gujarat government accused the foundation of interfering in India's internal affairs and "abetting communal disharmony".
In a crackdown last year, the home ministry had cancelled the foreign funding registrations of 10,000-odd NGOs saying they had failed to file their annual returns for three consecutive years.
Last month, the Centre refused to renew the foreign funding licences of 25 NGOs alleging they were working against the national interest.
Activists have accused the Centre of running a smear campaign against NGOs with the aim of crushing civil society dissent.

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