Millennium Post

Just a few days after the Missionaries of Charity — an organisation founded by Nobel laureate Mother Teresa in 1950 — was castigated by hardcore Hindu factions for carrying out alleged conversions, it has found itself amidst a new storm. The Ministry of Home Affairs has denied the renewal of FCRA registration for the charity organisation after getting 'adverse inputs' around its functioning. Driven by the spirit of servitude of Mother Teresa, the 72-year-old organisation has earned repute for serving the destitute in around 140 countries. Immediately after the denial of registration renewing, the issue gathered storm across the country, including West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed her grief over the fate of 22,000 patients and employees of the organisation. Other political figures like Derek O' Brien and Shashi Tharoor have also condemned the move. MHA has, however, stuck to its allegations based on 'adverse inputs'. Denial of registration effectively means that Missionaries of Charity will not be able to receive foreign funds and utilise more than 25 per cent of its available funds in the designated accounts without the approval of MHA, until the matter is resolved. For the time being, the organisation has also requested the State Bank of India to freeze its bank accounts until the matter is resolved. The governments' move comes with significant impacts. When it comes to delivery of services on humanitarian grounds, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are major players that operate parallel to the government. The move to deny renewed registration to the organisation in question on vague grounds is problematic. Though the MHA has clarified that the Missionaries of Charity had not appealed against the denial, the issue must have been handled with greater care, given the high credentials of the organisation. Mushrooming of NGOs for profiteering is no doubt an emergent issue, but not every NGO or organisation can be swept with the same broom. Perhaps a generalised trend can be seen in the cancellation of registration of NGOs. Over the past decade, registration of more than 20,000 associations has been canceled on the grounds including non-filing of returns, misutilisation of funds etc. This number is somewhere close to half of the total FCRA-registered associations operating within the country — which stands at around 50,000. Many of these associations are related to critical sectors like climate change and child rights, among other things. The role of NGOs in national development and social security is paramount, as they provide a decentralised apparatus for delivery of essential services — reaching the corners that are even left by the government. While there is no doubt that to ensure national security and social order, the government should clamp down on associations functioning with marred designs, but this has to be done in a responsible and transparent manner. It is in this light that the vague ground cited for denial of renewed registration for Mission of Charity is disturbing. Since the organisation is associated with public service, and affects the lives of common masses, people are entitled to know exactly the reasons for the government's move. In general, the rift between the government and the NGOs is widening with regards to their interaction through FCRA. Originally instituted in 1976, the FCRA, aimed at preventing the misuse of foreign funds, was repealed and re-promulgated in 2010 — with a stricter outline. Even currently, new amendments introduced in 2020 remain a bone of contention between the government and the NGOs. The new amendments prevent the NGOs from transferring foreign funds to other organisations, which they say makes it tough for them to fund for many of the required services. Political parties, on the other hand, have themselves been criticised by organisations like Association for Democratic Reforms for being involved in misappropriation of foreign funds. These inconsistencies point towards glaring loopholes and widespread opacity in regulation of foreign funds. Perhaps this is the reason behind unresolved contentious issues between the government and NGOs, lingering over decades. Ultimately, it is the general masses who bear the brunt of the two development engines — the government and the NGOs — being at odds with each other. To sum up, the case of Missionaries of Charity represents only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath lies a pervasive environment of mistrusts and acrimony. For ensuring a positive atmosphere, conducive for growth and optimum societal development, the ambiguities in legal documents and administrative actions need to be removed. It also goes without saying that only such an improvement can help check the misutilisation of foreign funds. Transparency is the key here.

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