NEW YORK: In one of the largest such concerted moves to help salvage relief operations in India of a now-barred NGO, 107 US House of Representative members came together to send off a letter to Indian Union Minister of Home Rajnath Singh to temporarily restore the operations of children’s aid organization Compassion International, until outstanding contentious issues are sorted out. Compassion International was forced to shut down its operations in India after 48 years of service to the poor and downtrodden.
The letter, dated March 21, explained that the US-headquartered Compassion International provides tuition, nutrition and medical services to more than 145,000 poor children in India, and shutting it down is a heavy blow for those who need its services the most.
Compassion International had an annual budget of $45 million in India for its 589 development centers, more than any of the other 25 countries it works in.
The effort was led by the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Ed Royce, California Democrat Ami Bera, and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), among others.
“It is our sincere hope that this situation can be resolved quickly by your issuing a temporary reprieve,” they lawmakers said, expressing concern over the alleged “lack of transparency and consistency” in the enforcement of the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act in India.
“We believe the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an inter-bank circular, preventing all commercial banks in India from processing CI’s wire transfers without prior ministry approval,” it said.
Last year, India listed Compassion International under the “prior permission” category of the FCRA, which prohibits it from receiving foreign funding without government approval. The charity had been accused of trying to convert people to follow Christianity.
In all more than 11,000 NGO organizations lost their licenses to receive foreign funds, apart from Compassion International, which many pointed out made a huge impact with its $38 a month “sponsor a child” program.
Earlier in March, President and CEO of Compassion International Santiago Mellado had told Christianity Today that the government had changed the foreign funding Act in 2011 to regulate the functioning of NGOs “it disagrees with philosophically”.
Mellado also said: “India alone has just under 30 percent of the 400 million children who live in extreme poverty… We have to figure it out.”
The New York Times had in an earlier report quoted a Ministry of External Affairs official as saying that the charity’s “partners were violating Indian law by engaging in religious activities.”
The official told the paper “that the organization declined a government offer to re-register as a religious organization, which would have allowed it to continue its work in India.”
Here’s the full text of the letter:
March 21, 2017
The Honorable Rajnath Singh
Minister of Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs, North Block
New Delhi-110001, India
Dear Mr. Singh:
As long time supporters of the U.S.-India partnership, we have worked diligently to deepen ties between our two countries. As the largest and oldest democracies in the world, India and the United States share bonds rooted in political pluralism and respect for the rule of law. It is with this in mind that we write to express our deep concern over the lack of transparency and consistency in your government’s enforcement of the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act.
The ongoing case of U.S.-based Compassion International, which will have harmful consequences for many Indian children, has caused serious concern within the U.S. Congress. As you may know, Compassion International has worked in India since 1968, and today, its programs support over 145,000 Indian children, providing critical tutoring, health and nutrition, and medical services.
Tragically, Compassion will soon be forced to terminate its service to India after nearly 50 years of working in your country. We are writing because we believe the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an inter-bank circular preventing all commercial banks in India from processing CI’s wire transfers without prior Ministry approval. As a result, Compassion is unable to process the funds it needs to continue, and will be forced to close its sponsorship programs on March 15th, to the detriment of the hundreds of thousands of children Compassion serves in India. Many of our constituents, who have built emotional attachments through years of building relationships with these kids, are devastated by this wrenching cutoff.
We want to be clear with you that we expect all American entities operating within India to respect India’s laws, including Compassion. Having seen the important poverty alleviation work being done by CI, it is our sincere hope that this situation can be resolved quickly by your issuing a temporary reprieve. This would allow Compassion International to process their wire transfers and keep their programs serving the Indian people operating until a more permanent solution can be found in accord with India’s laws.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.