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Govt Refuses to Show Records of CHRI's FCRA Suspension, Asks Delhi HC for Confidentiality

The Union government had suspended the CHRI's FCRA certificate in June this year but the NGO has alleged that no mandated show-cause notice was sent to it before the decision was taken.

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New Delhi: The Union government on Monday, December 6, told the Delhi high court that it would not present the original records of alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) by international NGO, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the Indian Express reported.

This comes after the court’s October 25 order granting the government time to produce this order to substantiate claims that a show-cause notice had been issued to the NGO before its FCRA certificate was suspended on June 7 this year for a period of 180 days. The CHRI, however, contends that no show-cause notice was issued, in contravention of provisions of the law.

The Union government’s June 7 suspension order alleged certain financial irregularities with the NGO, including a failure to notify authorities about the opening of a bank account in 2016 and the non-inclusion of one of its utilisation accounts in its annual returns for fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18.

In the intervening months, the CHRI appealed the government’s decision before the high court, challenging the suspension as well as requesting interim permission to utilise 25% of its funds and continue to receive foreign donations during its suspension period. 

The CHRI’s plea claimed that the government’s decision to suspend its certificate was “patently patently without jurisdiction, ultra vires Section 13 of the FCRA, unreasonable, manifestly arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate, on the face of it being based on wholly incorrect facts and for violating basic principles of natural justice,” Outlook reported.

Section 13 of the FCRA allows the Union government to suspend an organisation’s certificate for a maximum of 180 days by order in writing. During the suspension period, the organisation may not receive foreign contributions or utilise the contributions already in its custody unless specifically authorised by the government.

In its petition, the also NGO said that the freezing of its accounts had severely restricted its programme activities and left it unable to pay salaries to its 40 employees and consultants, which became particularly pertinent during the coronavirus pandemic, the Indian Express had reported

The court’s bench of Justice Rekha Palli in its October 25 order had asked the government to submit the original order of the case. The court has also sought the Union’s reply on the NGO’s petition challenging the suspension as well as its plea to utilise 25% of its funds.

Additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the government noted that it wants to invoke confidentiality and thus, not present the original order. Justice Palli pulled up the government for its new decision, saying that it should have asked for the recall of the October 25 order or should not have taken its earlier stand.

Justice Palli, nonetheless gave the government a week’s time to file the application for confidentiality and noted that the application would be considered on its merits as and when it is filed, further saying that the court would examine whether or not the Union government could seek confidentiality without having issued notice to the CHRI in the first place. The court will hear the matter on December 22.

Also read: Union Govt Restricts Funding for 10 NGOs Working on Environment, Child’s Rights: Report

The Union government has been using the FCRA to stifle operations of voluntary organisations in the country more and more since the Act’s amendment in September, 2020, be it through suspensions of their certificates or by creating additional hurdles by adding the organisations to the FCRA’s Prior Reference Category (PRC).

When a foreign donor wants to transfer funds to an organisation in the PRC, it needs to obtain prior permission for doing so from the Ministry of Home Affairs’ foreigners division of the FCRA wing. Over 80 voluntary organisations are now in the PRC.