Washington, Dec 7: Top American lawmakers today expressed concern over the alleged curbs imposed by India on a Christian charity organisation whose representatives appeared before a Congressional hearing seeking change in New Delhi's policies related to foreign funding of NGOs.
"It is my hope that by bringing attention to this issue, as we're doing here today, the 145,000 children will not be tragically denied the services they desperately need, and that American families....can continue to send the USD38 a month for food and education fees to the poorest of the poor," Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Relations Committee said in his opening remarks.
Royce joined by other lawmakers and representations of human rights bodies and Compassion International (CI) -- the Christian charity organisation which is often accused of being engaged in religious conversions in India -- rued that the recent effort to regulate foreign funding and enforce taxation laws has made it impossible for them to carry out work among poor children in India.
"In India, it (CI) is the single largest contributor of aid for children living in extreme poverty," Royce said. "We have spent nine months and hundreds of hours dealing with the Indian bureaucracy on this, and it looks like the bureaucracy is trying to run out the clock," Royce said.
Compassion International says in 2011, the Indian government made significant changes to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which is the law that regulates NGOs' receipt of foreign funds into the country. The Indian Government has asserted that its policies initiated in 2011 is not aimed at one particular NGO.
Congressman Eliot Engel, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he has been concerned by reports that NGOs are having difficulty registering and operating in India.
"Civil society plays a pivotal role in democracy, holding government accountable and standing up for the rights of marginalised groups. So it's troubling that a country with such a long tradition of an empowered and active civil society might be going down this path," he said.
"We cannot avoid the hard questions or avoid discussions simply because they are difficult conversations to have. This is how democracies work, warts and all," he added.
Testifying before the committee, Stephen Oakley, general counsel and vice president of the General Counsel Office at Compassion International, alleged that the Home Ministry and the Income Tax Department are harassing NGOs like his which are engaged in charity works among poor children.