New Delhi: India on Tuesday condemned the remarks made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet who criticised the government’s restrictions on foreign funding for the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in India and the arrest of activists in the country.Also Read - Trade, Investment, Economy: Here’s What To Expect From PM Modi's Address At ASEAN-India Summit Today
Bachelet had specifically cited as “worrying” the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits the receipt of foreign funds “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest.” Also Read - Redefining Self-Defence! MukkaMaar Launches 'POWER With Mukki' on International Day of The Girl Child
To this, the Ministry of External Affairs replied, “We’ve seen some comments by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on an issue relating to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). India is a democratic polity based on the rule of law & an independent judiciary. Framing of laws is obviously a sovereign prerogative.” Also Read - Hungary, Serbia Agree to Recognise India’s Vaccine Certificate; MEA Says Move Will Boost Tourism, Travel
“Violations of law, however, cannot be condoned under the pretext of human rights. A more informed view of the matter was expected of a UN body,” it added.
Bachelet had earlier released a statement where she said, “India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of groundbreaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally,”
“But I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices,” she had said.
Bachelet earlier said the Act, which was adopted in 2010 and was amended last month, has been invoked over the years to “justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies.
“I am concerned that such actions based on the grounds of vaguely defined ‘public interest’ leave this law open to abuse, and that it is indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceive as critical in nature, she said.
As per the amended FCRA law, furnishing of Aadhaar numbers by office-bearers of NGOs has become mandatory for registration. The Act also provides for reduction in administrative expenses of any NGO receiving foreign funding, from 50 per cent to 20 per cent of annual funds to ensure spending on their main objectives.
This amendment, according to the government, was made in the interest of good NGOs which want to do good work in the country.
“NGOs are expected to adhere to all our laws including in respect of foreign funding just as they presumably would in other countries including the US and in the European Union,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said last month.
However, Bachelet asserted that activists and human rights defenders have also “come under mounting pressure in recent months, particularly because of their engagement in mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that took place across the country earlier this year.”
“I urge the Government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India’s robust civil society,” she asserted.
(With PTI inputs)