Court Seeks Centre’s Stand In CHRI’s Plea Concerning Suspension Of FCRA Registration

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The Delhi High Court on Monday granted time to the Centre to clarify if it would allow, subject to conditions, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) to receive foreign contribution in spite of suspension of its registration and consequent freezing of bank account.

The court also sought the Centre’s stand on allowing the organisation to utilise its existing funds for payment of salaries and meeting other expenses.

Can’t ask people to suffer in COVID-19 times, Justice Rekha Palli said, opining that prima facie the organisation should be allowed to pay salaries.

If their foreign contributions are for salaries then everything goes, the central government’s standing counsel Anil Soni told the court as he informed that he was yet to receive “instructions from the department”.

This is only a suspension, thereafter we will conduct an inquiry, Mr Soni added.

“Get instructions. Otherwise, I’ll pass an order,” the judge said and listed the matter for further hearing on July 19.

The organisation has moved the high court against an order passed by the Home Ministry, suspending CHRI’s registration for 180 days.

Appearing for the organisation, Senior advocate Arvind Datar said the suspension of CHRI’s registration was disproportionate to the alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 2010 (FCRA Act).

Senior advocate CU Singh, appeared along with Mr Datar, submitted that law permits the Centre to pass appropriate orders allowing the utilisation of 25 per cent of the foreign contribution already in its custody until such time as the suspension of its registration is revoked.

In its petition, CHRI has sought quashing of the suspension order dated June 7 for “being patently without jurisdiction, ultra vires S.13, 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”.

CHRI has argued that suspension order has “completely paralysed” its functioning, “threatens the livelihood of its employees and casts a stigma on its reputation”.

“A 180-day suspension is a drastic measure that threatens the very existence of the Petitioner (CHRI), apart from causing great harm to its reputation built painstakingly over 3 decades. The consequent freezing of Petitioner’s receipt and utilisation bank accounts have severely restricted its planned programme activities,” the petition reads.

CHRI is now not in a position to pay salaries to its 40 staff members and consultants, whose livelihoods depend on it, especially in these difficult times precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is added.

The petition highlights that CHRI’s current Executive Committee has a “galaxy of legal luminaries, former top police officials, environmental leaders” and Wajahat Habibullah, the first Chief Information Commissioner of India, is its Chairperson. The other committee members include former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur and former Delhi high court Chief Justice AP Shah.

The allegations against CHRI include mixing foreign contribution with domestic donation and non-intimation of specific accounts.

In 2016, CHRI’s registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 2010 was renewed up to October 31, 2021.

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