Courting Controversy? When the Modi govt cracked down on NGOs

Jun 16, 2016, 19:06 IST | mid-day online correspondent

With the home ministry cancelling the licence of activist Teesta Setalvad's Sabrang Trust, let's take a look at some of the other charity organisations that have faced this regime's ire

Is the Narendra Modi government persecuting NGOs with international connections? While the truth is not known, the growing perception is that there is that the NDA government has cracked down on several NGOs, specifically over foreign funding.

The home ministry on cancelled the license of social activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGO Sabrang Trust. The non-profit had been dealing with cases related to the 2002 riots in Gujarat.

"The decision to cancel registration of NGO Sabrang Trust was taken after considering and examining all matters," a Ministry of Home Affairs source said here.The government had earlier "suspended" the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) license of the trust run by Setalvad, who has been vocal against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his role as the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the 2002 anti-Muslim mayhem in the state, and her husband Javed Anand. 

The FCRA law regulates the foreign funding of the NGOs registered in India."Sabrang Trust foreign funding was suspended about nine months back in September 2015 after it was found that there were violations of the FCRA law," a source told a news agency.

This is not the first time that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has cracked down on NGOs. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge in 2014, the MHA has regularly initiated crackdowns on NGOs' foreign funding.

The licence of Lawyers' Collective, an NGO which has former Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Indira Jaising as one of its trustees, was suspended by the Modi government on June 1 for six months for alleged violation of FCRA by using the funds for rallies, dharna with political "hue and colour", a charge denied by the association which termed it as an act of "vindictiveness".

According to information obtained under RTI from the Home Ministry by a leading website, the Indian government cancelled registrations of more than 10,117 NGOs across the country in the second half of 2015.

The union government had stated the MHA cancelled the registration of these NGOs in 2015 after they failed to file annual returns for three financial years -- 2009-2010, 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been recorded having criticised what he calls "five-star activists" and a 2014 government intelligence report reportedly claimed that the NGOs and activists were working hand-in-glove with foreign powers to undermine India's economic growth.


Teesta Setalvad's NGO (Sabrang Trust)

Teesta Setalvad
Teesta Setalvad

The home ministry had in September 2015 suspended the registration of The Sabrang Trust, run by activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, for six months accusing the organisation of violating Foreign Currency (Regulation) Act that invites termination of its licence.

Setalvad was pursuing legal cases against Modi, accusing him of failing to stop anti-Muslim rioting that killed at least 1,000 people when he was chief minister of Gujarat. Modi denied the charges and was exonerated in a Special Investigation Team (SIT) inquiry in 2012.

Gujarat Minister of State for Home Rajnikant Patel, had at the time, told a news agency, "We have written a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh seeking probe into the role of Teesta Setalvad's NGO (Sabrang Trust) after we found out funds given to the NGO were misused... During the investigation of Gulberg Society museum funds embezzlement case, these things came to light," Patel said.

Greenpeace India

Greenpeace India activist Priya Pillai
Priya Pillai

The Indian government cancelled the registration of Greenpeace India on September 3, 2015, to collect money from overseas sources. The Modi government had at the time accused the environmental charity of trying to stall India’s economic development by campaigning against mining and nuclear projects. That decision of the home ministry had come five months after it suspended the NGO's licence under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 2010 (FCRA) for 180 days. It had also frozen its seven bank accounts.

In January 2015, Priya Pillai, a prominent Indian campaigner with Greenpeace was deplaned at Delhi airport ahead of her scheduled visit to Britain. Though, the Delhi high court later declared the order illegal, the government argued that Pillai intended to foster a "negative image" of India that could discourage prospective investments.

Ford Foundation

The Indian government put the Ford Foundation on its watch-list for funding activist Teesta Setalvad's NGOs, saying they allegedly didn't use the funds provided by the foundation for the stated purpose 'in violation' of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The government claimed that the American charitable organisation was funding groups which acted against the national interest. The government restrictions were later eased just before Modi's Washington trip.


The Union government placed the Catholic charity Caritas on a government watch list. The group has been operating in India for more than 50 years and works on health, education and poverty-related issues. A home ministry official, had at the time, said that Caritas had violated India's foreign funding laws by financing groups that were working "against the country".

Indira Jaising (Lawyers Collective)

Indira Jaising
Indira Jaising 

LS is an organisation that has former Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Indira Jaising and her husband Anand Grover, who is special prosecutor in the 2G spectrum case, as its trustees. It's licence was suspended for alleged violations of foreign funding norms.

Jaising has represented several people opposing the union government. She is representing Teesta Setalvad in her legal battle against the government over the latter's NGO license being suspended. She has also represented Priya Pillai, the Greenpeace activist. Jaising is also a vocal supporter of the 2002 Gujarat riot victims. She had even spoken out about the violation of tribals' forest rights in the Mahan coal block area of Madhya Pradesh. Jaising was also part of the petition urging stay against terrorist Yakub Memon’s hanging in 2015.

The eminent lawyer had at the time termed the suspension of licence of her NGO as a "blatant attempt to victimise" the organisation and an "act of vindictiveness" on the part of the NDA government.

She pointed out that the first time the notice was mentioned in the press was the day BJP President Amit Shah had to appear in court in the Sohrabuddin murder case.


"The Lawyers' Collective condemns the blatant attempt of the government of India to victimise the organisation and its office bearers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. This is noting but a gross misuse of the FCRA Act which is being used to suppress any form of dissent.

"It is far too well know that both Anand Grover and Indira Jaising have represented several persons in their professional capacity as lawyers in several cases against the government and the functionaries including the President of the BJP party, Amit Shah protesting his discharge in the Sohrabuddin murder case," the NGO said in a statement.

The Home Ministry's order/show cause notice is a mala fide act and an act of vindictiveness on the part of the government, it said.

"This is being done because of the cases that Lawyers Collective ('LC') and its trustees, Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, are involved in, including but are not limited to Sanjiv Bhatt, Yakub Memon and Priya Pillai," the statement said.

Go to top