Today's Paper

Centre cannot brand organisations ‘political’: SC

‘They cannot be deprived of foreign funds for using legitimate forms of dissent’

The Central government cannot brand an organisation ‘political’ and deprive it of its right to receive foreign funds for using “legitimate forms of dissent” like bandh, hartal, road roko or jail ‘bharo’ to aid a public cause, the Supreme Court held on Friday.

“Any organisation which supports the cause of a group of citizens agitating for their rights without a political goal or objective cannot be penalised by being declared as an organisation of a political nature,” a Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta observed in a 23-page judgment.

But the foreign funding pipeline could be cut if an organisation took recourse to these forms of protest to score a political goal, the court said.

It struck a similar balance in the cases of organisations of farmers, workers, students, youth based on caste, community, religion, language, etc. It said their foreign funding could continue as long as these organisations worked for the “social and political welfare of society” and not to further “political interests”.

Political objectives

However, the court wholesomely agreed that organisations with “avowed political objectives in its memorandum of association or bye laws” cannot be permitted access to foreign funds.

Such organisations were clearly of a “political nature,” it concluded.

The verdict came on a petition filed by Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) challenging certain provisions of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010 and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules of 2011, both of which confer the Centre with “unguided and uncanalised power” to brand organisations ‘political’ and shut down their access to foreign funds.

The provisions under challenge before the court included Section 5 (1) of the FCRA.

This provision allowed the Centre a free hand to decide whether a seemingly non-political organisation was actually political in nature. INSAF argued that Section 5(1) was vague and thus unconstitutional. The Delhi High Court, which INSAF approached first, said the provision was “expansive” and not vague. The Supreme Court agreed with the High Court on Friday.

The next provision under the microscope was Section 5(4) of the FCRA.

INSAF said the provision did not exactly identify the authority before which an organisation could represent its grievance. But the apex court dismissed this contention.

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