India’s Move to Regulate NGOs Impacts Free Speech, U.S. Says

The Indian government’s move to investigate non-governmental organizations operating in the country is a matter of concern and impacts freedom of speech, U.S Ambassador Richard Verma said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration suspended environmental group Greenpeace’s license and froze its bank accounts last month for violation of law, while philanthropic group Ford Foundation was asked to take prior approval before releasing funds.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is being investigated by India’s Home Ministry, the Economic Times reported Wednesday. L.C. Goyal, the top bureaucrat in the Home Ministry, denied the report.

“I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions,” Verma told reporters in New Delhi. “The perception is one that the regulatory actions that are being taken could have a chilling effect on speech and freedom of expression.”

Ford Foundation had been put on watch as it had extended funds to non-governmental groups that weren’t eligible for foreign contributions, Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju told lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday.

Greenpeace is facing an imminent shutdown in India as the group has just enough funds to meet a month’s expenses such as staff salaries, Greenpeace India Executive Director Samit Aich said in a post on the group’s website.

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