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Zakir Naik’s NGO placed on FCRA watch list

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The Government of India has, for the first time, issued a gazette notification under Section 12(4) of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), putting the Islamic Research Foundation of controversial preacher Zakir Naik on the “prior permission” list for receiving funds from abroad. His activities came under the scanner after a terror-accused in Dhaka claimed to have been influenced by his speeches.

In the ongoing investigation, security agencies have found that the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) has committed “multiple violations.” Though the government did not specify, it made clear that the IRF would not be able to challenge the gazette notification and henceforth will have to get an okay from the Union home ministry for all foreign funds.

The centre’s move stands vindicated by recent observations made by the Supreme Court on mushrooming NGOs. The Court held that the time had come to set up a legal mechanism to closely track funding, spending and monitoring of NGOs. The court was apprised that there were more than 30 lakh NGOs existing in India, with the number on the rise, and only a measly 8-10 percent had submitted their account books with the Registrar of societies.

Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 regulates the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality by certain individuals or associations or companies and prohibits acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality for any activities detrimental to the national interest.

Section 12(4) of the Act lays down several conditions for an NGO to get registration. One of the conditions says that the person making an application for registration must not have been prohibited from accepting foreign contribution. The section further states that the acceptance of foreign contribution is not likely to affect prejudicially—

(i) the sovereignty and integrity of India; or

(ii) the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the State; or

(iii) the public interest; or

(iv) freedom or fairness of election to any Legislature; or

(v) friendly relation with any foreign State; or

(vi) harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes or communities

The Section also lays down the criteria that the acceptance of foreign contribution shall not lead to incitement of an offence or endanger the life or physical safety of any person.

The gazette notification was approved by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and has been vetted by the law ministry. President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent before IRF was placed on the watch list. Inspection of IRF’s accounts conducted by the Home Ministry officials in 2014 recorded “preliminary adverse findings” as well as misrepresentation of facts.

The Home Ministry found several FCRA violations including non-declaration of foreign donations of approximately Rs 1.79 crore, placing Rs 10 crore received from foreign donors in fixed deposits and diversion of foreign funds to other end-users. Recently, a debate was triggered about the IRF giving Rs 50 lakh donation to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, which was reportedly returned after a debate on Naik’s role in preaching extreme ideology.

The Mumbai-based IRF, according to its website, is a non-profit public charitable trust. Founded in 1991, it claims to be engaged in promoting Islamic Da’wah or propagation with proper presentation, understanding and appreciation of Islam. It also claims to be working to remove misconceptions about the religion amongst less-aware Muslims and non-Muslims. The IRF uses modern technology to reach millions of people worldwide through international satellite TV channels, cable TV networks, the internet and the print media.

Naik was conferred the King Faisal International Prize 2015 by King Salman of Saudi Arabia for his “service to Islam.” He has been preaching the Saudi brand of Islam, generally known as Salafism or Wahabism, alleged to be followed by most of the terror organizations in different parts of the world.

According to revelations by WikiLeaks in June 2015, the Saudi-sponsored Wahabis were aiming to set up their own education system in India as well. Out of Rs 1,700 crore that has been earmarked for the cause, Rs 800 crore was being spent on setting up universities. One such university was seen in Andhra Pradesh as well. Also, Rs 900 crore was earmarked for setting up 40 mosques, madrassas and even bribing mosque managements (of other sects) for facilitating spread of Wahabi ideology among their followers.

By Abu Turab

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