Monday, January 3 2022

Dive In


The tech and digital space in India is still hugely protectionist and if we could open up even a slither of access it would put us ahead of the game.

That’s a senior UK government official explaining why the UK is launching a full-court push to seal a big trade deal with India. Part of the quid pro quo is likely to be a significant relaxation in immigration rules for Indians. Options being considered: Allowing Indians to work in the UK up to three years and big cuts to visa fees. Guess who opposes making such concessions: The Indian-origin home secretary Priti Patel. Ah, the irony.

Big Story

The great foreign funding crackdown on NGOs

The TLDR: On January 1, over 12,000 Non Governmental Organisations lost their ability to receive foreign donations. These include prominent charities such as Oxfam India, educational institutions like Jamia Millia Islamia and organisations such as the Indian Medical Association and the Tuberculosis Association Of India. This is the fallout of a massive clampdown on foreign funding for non-profits—which has long been viewed as a potential national security threat.


Researched by: Sara Varghese & Prafula Grace Busi 


First, an overview of foreign funding regs

The FCRA licence: All organisations that receive foreign donations—be it in cash or in-kind—have to apply for a licence as per the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act—which was first instituted in 1976. 


The justification: for such a law is national security. The law is enforced by the Ministry of Home Affairs—and is intended to ensure that funds are received from legitimate sources and used for legitimate purposes. They should not be diverted toward activities that undermine the “sovereignty, security or integrity of India, or its strategic, scientific or economic interests.” So the fear of nonprofits being used as proxies for foreign interference is built into the law. 


The requirements: for getting a licence have been getting stricter over time:


  • For nearly a decade, organisations could freely get foreign donations, and only had to file an annual report. In 1984, new rules were introduced requiring non-profits to register and get a licence first.
  • In 2010, the rules became even more stringent. NGOs now had to renew their licence every five years. And only 50% of the foreign contributions could be utilised for administrative expenses—i.e to fund the organisation itself as opposed to paying for its activities. 
  • In 2015, the Home Ministry began requiring NGOs to give an undertaking that the foreign funds will not be used for activities that affect the sovereignty and integrity of India or disrupt communal harmony.
  • In 2020, the government added three new requirements. One, all foreign funds must be received in a State Bank of India account held in its New Delhi branch. Two, the cap on funds available for operating expenses was lowered from 50% to 20%. Three, foreign funds cannot be shared with or distributed to any other NGO—even if they have an FCRA license.


Two exemptions to note: Private companies are not covered by this law and do not need FCRA licences to receive foreign funds of any kind. Also not covered: political parties. The government first introduced an amendment in 2016 to make it easier for parties to accept foreign funds. And in 2018, it changed the law further to ensure there will be no public scrutiny of such funds. 


Quote to note: The UN has called the 2020 amendments “vaguely worded and overbroad” and “tantamount to a total ban on foreign funding for NGOs.”


The NGO casualty count


Headlines that matter

A global security worry

China is focusing its powerful internet-data surveillance network on foreign targets—including international journalists and academics. This use of advanced big data mining and artificial intelligence analysis technology is part of Beijing’s effort to refine its propaganda machine. Washington Post has this exclusive.


New rules for Vaishno Devi

After a stampede killed 12 pilgrims at the shrine on January 1, authorities have decided that yatra bookings can now only be done online. Until now, most visitors got their slips to enter the temple on arrival. Why this matters: according to eyewitnesses, 50,000 were at the temple that fateful day—despite Covid rules restricting the number to 35,000. That cap is now likely to be lowered to 25,000. (Indian Express

Sulli Deals: Version 2.0

Back in July, an app called Sulli Deals scraped photos of hundreds of Muslim women from social media platforms—and essentially pretended to “sell” them (explained here). Despite police complaints, no action was taken against the creators of the app—which was, however, taken down by GitHub. No wonder we now have a new version of the same hateful crime: A webpage called ‘Bulli Bai’—also on GitHub. One of the targets, journalist Ismat Ara, shared the screenshot below: 


Once again an FIR has been filed, and the webpage has been taken down. But it may well lead nowhere as it has in the past. Then again, the IT minister has promised action this time around…  (The Telegraph)

No cure for that hangover

Here’s the bad news: A review of existing scientific research shows that there is nothing that will get rid of the effects of alcoholic excess. This includes curcumin (found in turmeric), red ginseng, painkillers like loxoprofen and probiotics. The only three to show some promise: clove extract, tolfenamic acid (an NSAID painkiller available in the UK) and pyritinol (an analog of vitamin B6). (Gizmodo)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • A fab Doordarshan celebration of the old/new year from 1990


Smart & Curious

  • The 22 emerging technologies to look out for in 2022
  • The secret of having a meaningful conversation
  • Say hello to synthetic alcohol
  • The history and technology of… popcorn!

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