Calcutta Notebook


The Government is poised to rein in foreign-funded NGOs. A report by Intelligence Bureau had indicated that foreign-funded NGOs were in the forefront of obstructing many large infrastructure projects. The Government has recently ordered that NGOs will not make payments in excess of Rs 20,000 in cash. True, this may bring transparency in the NGO sector. However, there are altogether different implications of prohibiting these NGOs from receiving foreign funds altogether. On target of the Intelligence Bureau is Greenpeace. This is an internationally respected NGO that has been agitating against thermal and nuclear power projects in India as also in rest of the world. The Government has prohibited Greenpeace India from receiving funds from its parent Greenpeace International. Greenpeace has approached the High Court challenging the action of the Government. The matter is being heard at present.

There are three categories of NGOs. Some philanthropy-oriented NGOs are working across the world. About 200 NGOs that were mostly foreign-funded provided basic services during the genocide in Rwanda. Many organizations in India are providing health and education in far flung villages. Such NGOs clearly should not be prohibited. On the other hand certain organizations are receiving monies for undertaking anti-national and criminal activities like for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack or for spreading fake currency notes. These activities are prohibited under criminal law of the country and foreign funds for these should clearly not be allowed. In the middle between these two far ends are large number of political and social organizations which defy a clear cut prescription.

Consider some examples. Netaji Subhash Bose received funds from Japan and Germany for liberating the country from British yoke. India provided support to Sheikh Mujib in his liberation war against the Pakistani regime. AAP is reported to be receiving foreign funds. Vishwa Hindu Parishad received bricks from across the world to make the Ram Mandir. A similar panorama of foreign funding exists at the global level. Venezuela has formed a Committee to examine receipt of funds by opposition parties from the United States. Russia has taken action against an NGO which was active in monitoring the elections. Hungarian Government has taken action against NGOs that were receiving grants from Norway because allegedly the grants found their way to the small party named "Politics Can Be Different." Myanmar Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi is accused of receiving foreign funds.

The legitimacy of these organizations depends upon the nature of the government which they oppose. India's support to Bangladesh in the 1971 war would be legitimate if one thought the Pakistani Government to be oppressive. The same would be illegitimate if one thought the Pakistani Government to be benign.

The decision whether to allow foreign-funded NGOs has to be undertaken under this situation of uncertainty. This decision cannot be left entirely to the national governments because that would play directly into the hands of the tyrants. Would Indians allow the British Government of India to decide whether Subhash Bose should be allowed to receive foreign money? The difficulty here is profound. If one stands in favour of foreign funding then one may endanger democratic governments as is alleged to be happening in Venezuela. On the other hand, if one stands against foreign funding then one gives a free hand to the tyrants as in British India.

There is a huge danger in using legal instruments for preventing organizations like Greenpeace from receiving foreign funds; for, in the same breath, people will stand against provision of foreign funds to fight tyrants. Bigger danger is that the good work possibly being done by Greenpeace would be lost to the country. Who knows, Greenpeace may be right and Government may be wrong. Therefore, this decision should be left to the people.

If anything capital has become denationalized. Foreign Direct Investment has free entry into the country. Then why not also provide free entry to those opposing FDI? There is no consensus yet on the beneficial impacts of FDI. So both sides should be heard. The proceedings in a court are a sham if only one party is allowed into the courtroom and other is denied entry. So also with supporters and opposers of global capital. It is well known that global capital has made global alliances in the IMF, World Bank, WTO and World Economic Forum. It is only legitimate that the opposition to these organizations is allowed space so that people can decide. The WTO meeting at Seattle was stymied by international NGOs coming together. The World Economic Forum meeting at Melbourne was similarly attacked. Foreign funding for these resistances should be encouraged not because they are right but because that is how the debate proceeds and people get a chance to decide.

Vol. 47, No. 20, Nov 23 - 29, 2014