NGO’s working not to be stifled even if FCRA registration not renewed

In a major reprieve for Lawyers Collective, a non-profit run by former ‎additional solicitor general Indira Jaising, Bombay High Court issued an ‎interim order recently, restraining the charity commissioner from attaching ‎the organisation’s assets and accounts.‎

Justice MS Sonak observed that while FCRA Act gave the Union government ‎power to “regulate or even prevent associations from accepting foreign ‎funds,” it did not permit the government to “stifle the very functioning of ‎individuals or associations.”‎

The court directed that the domestic and non-FCRA bank accounts of the ‎organisation be de-freezed on the condition that the NGO file quarterly ‎reports detailing the use of these funds.‎

In November last year, MHA had permanently cancelled the organisation’s ‎FCRA registration, alleging the misuse of foreign funds. The ministry had ‎directed that the NGO’s bank accounts be frozen and its assets attached. The ‎MHA had issued similar orders for Greenpeace India, and activist Teesta ‎Setalvad’s NGOs — Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace.‎

Lawyers Collective approached the Bombay high court through senior ‎advocates Aspi Chinoy and Jamshed Mistry, arguing that the MHA order — ‎that draws upon sections 22 and 15 of the FCRA — was erroneous and that ‎the sections had been misinterpreted. Advocate Chinoy argued that FCRA ‎provisions permitted the disposal of assets only with regard to defunct ‎organisations. He added that Lawyers Collective was an existing entity that ‎conducted extensive legal research in the fields of health and social justice. ‎He said the organisation had come to a standstill as the MHA had prohibited ‎it from accessing its own domestic accounts.‎

Justice Sonak observed that some of the allegations levelled by MHA were ‎‎“quite vague”. He added that since the appeal would be taken up for a final ‎hearing to decide upon the legality of the MHA’s decision, in the meantime, ‎it would not be appropriate for the NGO’s functioning to be halted.‎

Socio Research & Reform Foundation (NGO)
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