The Lok Sabha on Monday evening passed a bill amending the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) over the objections of Opposition members who accused the Centre of acting as 'Big Brother' and alleged that the proposed legislation was brought in to "target minorities".
The draft law seeks to make it mandatory for officer-bearers of NGOS to provide Aadhar numbers at the time of registration and to bar public servants from receiving foreign funds. The bill also empowers the Centre to allow an NGO or association to surrender its FCRA certificate.
The Centre, for its part, claimed that the bill is necessary in order to achieve an 'atmanirbhar Bharat'.
The bill now needs to be passed by the Upper House and then receive a nod from President Ram Nath Kovind.
Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha continued to be in an uproar for the second consecutive day following the row over two farm sector bills.
Chairman Venkaiah Naidu rejected a notice for no-confidence motion against Deputy Chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh, stating that it was not in the proper format.
Eight MPs, including TMC's Derek O'Brien and AAP's Sanjay Singh, were suspended for the remainder of the Monsoon Session over their "unruly behaviour" on Sunday.
Opposition members, objecting to the manner in which the farm bills were passed on Sunday had stormed the Well of the House, torn official papers, climbed on tables, shouted slogans, and threw the rule book at Harivansh after their demand for physical voting went unheeded.
'MHA acting as Big Brother'
During a discussion on the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Bill, 2020, Congress MP Anto Antony called the bill "another exotic adventure" and warned that it would "kill NGOs".
Antony claimed that the bill was brought to target minorities. He said that all Christian charities were not indulging in conversion and added that these institutions have uplifted the poorest of poor.
TMC's Sougata Roy claimed that "high-handed Hindu revivalism" was the government's credo and asserted that there was no need for the bill.
Roy said the bill is another example of the home ministry acting as a 'Big Brother' and watching over the country to see who gets what money from where. "This bill is meant to tighten the screws on those organisations that receive funds from abroad," he said.
NCP MP Supriya Sule questioning the decision to make Aadhar mandatory for registration, stated that the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that Aadhar is not compulsory.
Sule also questioned the logic for creating an account in State Bank of India, Delhi."Are you trying to sow suspicion that other banks are not capable of opening an FCRA account?" Sule queried.
The bill stipulates that foreign contribution should only be received in an account designated as ''FCRA Account'', which should be opened in a branch of the SBI at New Delhi specified by the Centre. But it allows the concerned organisations to transfer these funds to another account for utilisation.
"I request the Central government to stop bulldozing people who do good work," Sule said, adding that there may be a bad apple among the NGOs, but there were a hundred others doing good work.
According to Scroll, BSP MP Ritesh Pandey claimed that the government could curb dissent through the bill. He further said that the clause allowing the government to extend the suspension of registration for a year would mean more control for the MHA. TRS' Bhimrao Patil also alleged that the bill would concentrate "inordinate powers" in the hands of the Centre.
However, Shiv Sena's Shrirang Appa Barne supported the bill and said that there is a need to come out with a strict law to stop religious conversion.
Janata Dal (United) MP Kaushalendra Kumar said the bill would boost transparency while YSRCP's Bellana Chandra Sekhar called the bill "much needed".
BJP's Satya Pal Singh said many organisations receiving foreign contributions were not spending the money on the work it was meant for. Money received as foreign contribution cannot be spent on terrorist activities, he said.
According to The Hindu, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that there was a political agenda behind the bill, saying that on one hand the government invited foreign funds, but stopped such funds if they came for educational and charitable purposes.
'FCRA bill necessary for atmanirbhar Bharat'
Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said the legislation was not against any religion or NGO. Rai asserted the bill would help in curbing misuse of foreign funds and was necessary for an 'atmanirbhar Bharat'
"FCRA is a national and internal security law to ensure that foreign funds don't affect national interests. Here, transparency is the main aim," he said.
" If we do not freeze the bank accounts of those under investigation, how will we conduct the probe?" Rai asked.
Rai, justifying the step to cut foreign funds allowed for administrative expenses from 50 percent to 20 percent, alleged that many NGOs use public funds for their personal use.
The minister said that even though the apex court had said that Aadhar is not compulsory, it remains a significant proof of identification.
Lok Sabha passes IBC Amendment Bill
The Lower House also passed the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, 2020, under which fresh insolvency proceedings will not be initiated at least for six months starting from 25 March.
Chowdhury lashed out at the "Ordinance-savvy" government, saying it was promulgating ordinances one after the other under the pretext of COVID-19. "I would suggest to the government that the promulgation of ordinances shouldn't be taken as a rule but considered as an exception," Congress MP said.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the bill has been brought in to provide "immediate relief" to companies and called it timely.
"We had to prevent any company, stressed because of COVID, from being pushed into insolvency," she said.
Late at night, the Lok Sabha also passed the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill by voice vote. The bill, which provides for up to five years in jail for those attacking healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus or during any situation akin to the current pandemic, has already cleared the Rajya Sabha.
The bill replaces an ordinance issued by the government in April. The Union Cabinet had promulgated the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, amending the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to protect healthcare service personnel and property, including their living/working premises, against violence during epidemics.
The Lower House also passed The Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and The Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
Rajya Sabha adjourned as MPs protest
Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned on Monday without any business being transacted as the eight MPs suspended over the row in the House on Sunday refused to leave the House and sat in protest.
A motion for the suspension of the eight including Rajeev Satav, Syed Nasir Hussain and Ripun Bora (all Congress), Dola Sen (TMC), KK Ragesh and Elamaram Kareen (all CPM) was moved by the government and approved by a voice vote in the House.
Naidu also dismissed a motion seeking removal of Harivansh as deputy chairman, stating that it was not in proper format and a 14-day notice period was not given.
Condemning the behaviour of the MPs during the passage of the bill, Naidu said it was "very unfortunate, unacceptable" and tarnished the image of the House.
Naidu said the Opposition, which wanted voting on a resolution to send the two bills to a select committee of the House, should have voted if they had the numbers.
Opposition attacks,> PM defends
The suspensions of the MPs triggered a wave of protests outside Parliament. A senior TMC leader told PTI that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee spoke to the MPs and appreciated their efforts towards "upholding the values of Parliament".
Banerjee, who in the morning condemned the government for its action, also released an audio clip in which she strongly criticised the BJP and accused it of engaging in an "all-out effort to make states powerless and itself all-powerful."
Rahul Gandhi attacked the Centre, stating that its endless arrogance had brought economic disaster for the country.
'Muting Of Democratic India' continues: by initially silencing and later, suspending MPs in the Parliament & turning a blind eye to farmers' concerns on the black agriculture laws.
This 'omniscient' Govt's endless arrogance has brought economic disaster for the entire country.
" Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 21, 2020
One of the eight MPs, Elamaram Kareen, said suspension wouldn't silence them and reiterated the charge of throttling parliamentary procedures against Harivansh.
Suspension won't silence us. We will stand with farmers in their fight. Dy.Chairman throttled Parliamentary Procedures yesterday. Suspension of MPs exposed the coward face of BJP. People will see through the attempt to divert attention from their undemocratic actions.
" Elamaram Kareem (@ElamaramKareem_) September 21, 2020
The suspended MPs sat in protest outside the Parliament till late in the evening.
Delhi: TMC's Derek O'Brien & Dola Sen, AAP's Sanjay Singh, INC's Rajeev Satav, Ripun Bora & Syed Nasir Hussain, CPI(M)'s KK Ragesh & Elamaram Karim suspended for one week for unruly behaviour with the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman yesterday, protest in Parliament premises pic.twitter.com/kKJlaZDNpe
" ANI (@ANI) September 21, 2020
During a separate event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the bills, saying they were the need of 21st Century India and sought to assure farmers that the provisions for agriculture markets and Minimum Support Price (MSP) would continue as before.
The prime minister also accused the Opposition of misleading farmers as they feel "their control slipping away".
Meanwhile, Congress announced that it will launch a nationwide agitation against the farm bills and initiate a campaign to collect two crore signatures of farmers and the poor against the proposed legislations.
Leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), BJP's ally, met President Ram Nath Kovind and requested him to not grant assent to the proposed legislations, while leaders of various political parties including the Congress, the Left parties, NCP, DMK, SP, Trinamool Congress and the RJD submitted a memorandum to the president, seeking his intervention in the matter.
Centre hikes MSP of six rabi crops
In a related development, the government, seeking to send a strong message to protesting farmers, hiked the minimum price for six rabi crops, including wheat, by up to six percent.
Farmer groups in Punjab, Haryana and some other states are also protesting the two bills: The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.
The MSP of wheat, the biggest crop of rabi season, has been hiked by Rs 50 to Rs 1,975 per quintal, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said in Lok Sabha. Besides, MSPs of lentil (masoor), gram, barley, safflower and mustard/ rapeseed have been increased, he added.
Tomar said the MSPs of six rabi crops were approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) chaired by the prime minister on Monday, a move aimed at encouraging farmers ahead of the sowing operations of winter crops.
With inputs from PTI