Power against knowledge: On Centre for Policy Research FCRA licence suspension

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Source: The post is based on the article “Power against knowledge: On Centre for Policy Research FCRA licence suspension” published in The Hindu on 6th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – The role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.

Relevance: About restricting NGO operations.

News: The government has recently suspended the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) licence of the country’s premier think tank, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR).

This is due to a) lapses in the income-tax paperwork of CPR’s staff, b) lack of due process in the accounting process, and c) diversion of funds to publication of books, which the authorities allege is not part of the CPR’s objectives.

What are the concerns associated with invoking CPR Licence and restricting NGO operations?

Firstly, the CPR has been working on improving governance and enhancing state capacity among other things, in collaboration with governments, and the public and private sectors. Hence, the action against the CPR lowers the bar of tolerance for the political establishment to an abysmal level.

Secondly, the FCRA is a regulatory mechanism to ensure that foreign vested interests are not unduly influencing the domestic politics of India. But the application of the law in a manner that clearly disables the non-governmental sector suggests a thoughtless approach bordering on vindictiveness.

Thirdly, India’s New Education Policy envisages academic exchanges and cooperation between Indian and global institutions to raise the standard of higher education and research in the country. However, India’s global ambitions are clashing with insecure and reactionary actions such as the restrictions on the CPR.

Fourthly, assuming Indian thinking should be insulated from foreign ones, while seeking international technology and capital inflow at the same time is a paradox.\

Read more: Restrictions on NGO activities: Beyond civil society – ‘Protectionism’ in social services is impractical

What should be done instead of restricting NGO operations?

Collaboration with the world requires the flow of information, personnel and funds in both directions. But stringent restrictions on all these for national security reasons should be exercised sparingly.

In a country growing as fast as India, a massive expansion in capacity for research is the need of the hour. Along with public funding, private and philanthropic funding are essential for India to continuously expand its knowledge horizons in all fields. So, the government should not only tolerate, but also facilitate the emergence of several more institutions like CPR.

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