New policy for foreign non-governmental organisations aims to address concerns raised by India and ChinaThe policy will discourage organisations from running programmes that can hamper Nepal’s relations with neighbouring countries, Social Welfare Council officials say.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
In a bid to what it calls address concerns from neighbouring countries, the Social Welfare Council is drafting a policy “to discourage” international non-governmental organisations from running programmes that can hamper Nepal’s relations with India and China.
“Nepal is a land-locked country and has two large countries with large populations in the north and south,” states a draft of the strategy policy prepared by the council regarding the foreign non-governmental organisations' functioning. “Based on Nepal’s foreign policy of keeping balanced relations, the projects that are opposed by either country will not be implemented.”
Council officials said the policy, however, is still in the draft stage and some of its provisions are expected to be addressed by a new law on the registration of non-governmental organisations.
Durga Prasad Bhattarai, an information officer at the council, said the proposed policy is aimed at addressing the concerns of the neighbouring countries regarding the activities of non-governmental organisations, particularly in the bordering regions.
“The objective of the proposed policy is to reassert that Nepal government is concerned about the strategic mobilisation of international non-governmental organisations, particularly in the bordering regions, in the name of building madrasas and monasteries,” Bhattarai told the Post.
Cross-border terrorism and criminal activities continue to be a major concern of New Delhi, while China has its issues about Tibetans’ movement via Nepal.
According to the council, madrasas in the regions bordering India are receiving funds from countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Indian officials in the past have said that any kind of proliferation of extremism in the madrasas may hamper Nepal’s internal security dynamics, and have repeatedly alerted Kathmandu to be cautious. However, Nepal has downplayed such concerns, saying that local and national officials regularly monitor madrasas across the country.
Rajendra Kumar Poudel, member secretary at the council, admitted that India has raised concerns, through the Home Ministry, about the large presence of madrasas in the bordering region.
“So we have stepped up the scrutiny of the source of funds and nature of programmes to be run in the madrasas while providing approval for foreign funding,” said Poudel. “We are in favour of addressing India’s concerns, but we have not taken any opinion from the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu.”
Poudel, however, was quick to add that it would be wrong to paint all the madrasas with the same brush.
“Some madrasas in Morang and Sunsari are doing well in imparting education and many others are also attracting students from across the border who live in a 5km-10km periphery of the border,” said Poudel. “We are equally sensitive about the mobilisation non-governmental organisations in the areas bordering China, so as not to have any negative effect on our relations with the northern neighbour.”
Another official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new policy is being adopted also due to concerns expressed by the neighbouring countries about the potential presence of strategic rivals in the bordering regions through the medium of national and international non-governmental organisations.
The council is drafting yet another policy aiming to discourage programmes that promote religious activities, according to officials. The new policy will make any activity that affects the country’s religious and ethnic harmony punishable, they said.
Poudel told the Post that the council has stopped approving programmes that have religious content.
In a recently revised project proposal format also, the council has made a provision that the non-governmental organisations should not propose any activities that are barred by the country’s laws.
Officials at the council said the programmes are being evaluated carefully, unlike in the past when most of the programmes would be approved without giving much thought.
“If national or international non-governmental organisations engage in religious activities going against the approved programmes, they will be punished,” said Bhattarai.
“We have made recommendations to the government accordingly,” said Bhattarai.
Although the provision has not specified any law, officials told the Post that it was made to discourage the non-governmental organisations from undertaking activities that are related to religious conversion and those which can disrupt social harmony.
The 56th annual report of the Office of the Auditor General had also blamed the Council for poor monitoring despite reports finding that some of the non-governmental organisations—both domestic and foreign—were involved in some religious activities.
According to the report, Himalayan Bible Study Academy, an NGO, was found to have run computer and sewing training programmes and business and employment generation training only for the Christian community.
The Witness Society, another NGO, was found to have spent Rs264 million for purchasing land and running religious and social activities for Christians in 15 towns and 19 wards of 11 districts, according to the report.
Nepal Christian Bal Sikshya Sangati was found to have spent Rs5.6 million on providing Bible education to children and teachers.
“The activities targeting certain religious groups could affect the religious harmony and the Social Welfare Council should take this into account while renewing their affiliation with the council,” the auditing body had stated in its report.