Small NGOs, private individuals have to jump through hurdles to channel international funds
Vinay Kumar, a patent consultant from Bengaluru, who has been raising funds to provide COVID-19 relief material to remote areas in the country said he has pledges to the tune of 50,000 Euros but is finding it a nightmare to get the money into the country. The problems that NGOs and registered organisations are facing due to the strict regulations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010, are magnified when individuals like him attempt to channel international funds to help people in the country during this humanitarian crisis.
“It is almost impossible for an individual to bring foreign funds even if it is readily available,” he said in frustration. To receive the money, he had to partner with a German NGO. “They have never met me in person, and it was a partnership based on trust. The NGO had to purchase everything there and send it to India as a ‘gift’, for which I had to pay GST,” he said, stressing on the need for special relaxations to put the funds raised abroad to good use here. “It is a no-brainer that relaxations are needed, especially now when the pandemic is raging in the country. Saving lives is far more important,” he said.
Many private citizens with friends and family in other countries who want to contribute to the fight against the pandemic shared similar experiences, but did not want to be quoted.
It was only earlier this month that the FCRA Wing, Foreigners Division, Ministry of Home Affairs introduced some relaxations to the stringent rules and announced its decision to extend the validity of registration certificates for NGOs till September 30, 2021. But this does not help private citizens who wish to bring in foreign aid. They still have to route it through an FCRA-compliant NGO.
The Centre also issued a public notice stating that existing FCRA account holders have to open an ‘FCRA Account’ in the New Delhi Main Branch of the State Bank of India by June 30. They may, until then, utilise their existing bank accounts. Foreign contributions cannot be accepted in any account other than the FCRA account after July 1, 2021. The earlier deadline was March 31, 2021.
Ali Mohammed Sharieff, who runs Lifeline Foundation and is also part of Mercy Mission, stated that this was just temporary relief for NGOs that already have FCRA clearance. He also pointed out that many NGOs who are taking up relief work on the ground do not have FCRA registration. “Even if the funds are received by an organisation with FCRA registration, the same cannot be used to engage another NGO to do the work. This is resulting in major implementation issues,” he pointed out.
A report by The Hindu, earlier this year, had stated that there were 22,591 FCRA-registered NGOs in the country, but it is not a reflection of the actual number of small organisations and groups of people who banded together to lend a hand.
Organisations wary of taking donations
Many organisations that are actively involved in pandemic management in the city have decided to not accept funds from anyone who is not an Indian citizen. This includes persons who are Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holders and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO), who are residents of the city.
According to a representative of a residents’ collective, though many people had approached them to donate funds, they have been declining the offers. “We have been asking them to find an organisation with FCRA clearance and donate there,” the representative said.
An Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card holder and long-time Bengaluru resident, who spoke to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, is among those who have been able to donate only to large charitable organisations that have FCRA registration. “OCI residents, despite having PAN and Aadhaar cards, cannot donate money to smaller NGOs that are working on the ground” he said.
To work around this issue, many OCI and PIOs have donated small amounts to individuals. For instance, during the migrant crisis, which was precipitated by the national lockdown last year, he donated small amounts of money directly to labourers who were going back to their hometowns. “I have also donated to ISKCON, which has FCRA clearance,” he said.
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