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Activists angry as India targets foreign funding

Activists angry as India targets foreign funding

An Indian activist group said Wednesday the government has frozen its bank account as part of a broader crackdown on rights groups that receive foreign funding and have criticized India's policies.
The New Delhi-based Indian Social Action Forum received a letter from the Home Ministry three weeks ago freezing the 6 million rupees ($109,000) in its bank account and describing its activities as "prejudicial and against (the) public interest," said Ramesh Sharma, an official with the group.
The forum is required to ask the ministry's permission if it wants to spend its money, the letter said.
A home ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of repercussions, denied targeting activists based on the opinions they express. The government was just acting against organizations that did not have the proper approvals for receiving foreign funding, the official said.
Under two-year-old rules, Indian organizations are barred from getting donations from abroad without government permission. But many rights groups say the government has refused or ignored their requests to register to accept foreign funding.
"We have fears that the government is creating a climate of intimidation to silence critics," said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Some activists believe they were targeted after visiting the controversial Koodankulam nuclear plant, even though they were not involved with protests there, Ganguly said.
The Indian Social Action Forum campaigns for indigenous peoples' land rights and against nuclear energy, human rights violations and religious fundamentalism.
Sharma said the group received nearly 10 million rupees ($180,000) a year from abroad, and that nearly 90 percent of its funding comes from German nongovernmental organizations.
Sharma said his organization has not violated any laws, though it has challenged the new foreign contribution rules in the Supreme Court. He said the group had no immediate financial trouble and will raise funds within India to offset the loss.
Indian organizations have long received donations from both government and private institutions abroad, mainly from the United States, Britain and Germany.
Problems started mounting last year after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accused foreign groups of supporting anti-nuclear protests that delayed the commissioning of the Koodankulam plant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The government had been hoping to use nuclear energy to help solve the country's power crisis.
Last year, the government shut down three aid groups, accusing U.S. and Scandinavian groups of supporting the anti-nuclear protesters and delaying implementation of government plans to commercialize genetically modified crops.
The government said it was canceling the licenses of the organizations because they illegally diverted funds meant for helping disabled people and eradicating leprosy to anti-nuclear protests. The groups denied the claims.
In April 2012, India ordered the deportation of 10 French citizens who police said illegally worked with an Indian advocacy group accused of supporting Maoist rebels in the eastern state of Bihar.
The group, Ekta Parishad or Unity Forum, said it was working to protect the land and water rights of the poor and denied having rebel ties.


Updated : 2020-12-05 02:56 GMT+08:00