CBI searches premises linked to former IAS officer Harsh Mander in FCRA ‘violation’ case

The FIR states that the enquiry was instituted on a written complaint from the Union Home Ministry against the associations like CES, Aman Biradari Trust, and Oxfam India for alleged violation of the FCRA.

February 02, 2024 10:37 am | Updated 10:58 pm IST - New Delhi

Harsh Mander.

Harsh Mander. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday searched two premises linked to former Indian Administrative Service officer and social activist Harsh Mander, in a case of alleged Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) violation involving a non-government organisation, Centre for Equity Studies (CES).

“Mr. Mander’s official and residential premises were searched,” said a CBI official. The agency has named the Delhi-based organisation and its chairperson-cum-secretary, Mr. Mander, as the accused in the case, which has been registered on the basis of a preliminary enquiry launched on April 13, 2023.

According to the First Information Report (FIR), the enquiry was instituted on a written complaint from the Union Home Ministry against the associations such as CES, Aman Biradari Trust, Oxfam India, and Action Aid Association, for alleged violation of the FCRA.

Established in 2001, CES was registered as a trust with the Sub-Registrar (Delhi) for charitable purpose. Its office is located in Delhi’s Adchini and the organisation got FCRA registration in 2010.

As alleged, the agency found that CES transferred over ₹32.71 lakh, other than salary/wages/ remuneration from its FCRA account to those of some individuals during 2020-21 in violation of the FCRA provisions. It also allegedly diverted ₹10 lakh from its FCRA account through the firm(s) in contravention of the Act.

‘Strengthened my resolve’

Speaking on the raids, Dr. Mander said that he was further strengthened in his resolve and added that “my life, my writings and my work are my only response”.

In September 2021, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had carried out searches on the premises linked to Mr. Mander in connection with a money laundering probe, hours after he had left for Germany along with his wife for a six-month fellowship programme.

The ED investigation was based on an FIR registered by the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing against two children’s homes and their parent body, CES, in February 2021. The charges of alleged financial irregularities were based on a 2020 report of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). Mr. Mander’s name was, however, not there in the FIR.

The same month, another case had been registered by the Mehrauli police under various provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on a complaint from the NCPCR Registrar.

CBI action criticised

In a press statement, over 250 activists, academicians, lawyers, and concerned citizens condemned the CBI action and demanded closure of the FIR.

“We the undersigned unequivocally condemn the continued victimisation and intimidation of Dr. Harsh Mander...Harsh Mander is a widely respected and internationally acclaimed human rights activist who has taken up issues of those most oppressed. Today’s raid is a part of the long chain of harassment of Dr. Harsh Mander, his colleagues, his family and former and present board members of the Centre for Equity Studies,” it said.

“...since 2020, multiple investigating agencies of the government, including National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing, Income Tax (IT) authorities, Enforcement Directorate (ED) and now the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), have been carrying out what can only be described as a vindictive witch-hunt. In not a single case, has a chargesheet been presented in a court of law,” read the statement.

Describing the action against Mr. Mander and CES as an attack on all of civil society in the country and all those who worked to promote constitutional values, they said it was clear from the FIR that the charges were “entirely fabricated and without any material basis”.

“We stand in solidarity with Dr. Mander, in his determined resolve to preserve the principles and values of constitutional India,” the statement read.

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