HE Delhi High Court has permitted NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative(CHRI) to utilize 25% of foreign contributions lying in its custody to meet its expenses towards paying salaries to its employees and other personnel engaged by them in projects that had commenced before the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) passed an order suspending CHRI’s license under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act(FCRA).
A single-judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli passed the order on a plea moved by the CHRI.
“Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown most of our citizens in the throes of financial hardship and personal losses, it is a matter of deep concern that the Government has failed to take a more active approach for addressing the issues raised by the petitioner in the interim application”, Justice Palli said.
She added it was likely that these employees are finding it hard to make ends meet and take care of their families, not to mention the prohibitive medical bills that most of them would have been saddled within the aftermath of the second wave.
While challenging the suspension of its FCRA license, the CHRI had also sought an interim direction to allow it to utilize a portion of the foreign grant to pay salaries to its employees.
When the matter came up for hearing on July 19, the high court asked whether MHA would be willing to allow, as an interim measure, the petitioner’s request for utilizing a part of foreign contribution to enable it to pay salaries of its around 40 employees. The high court granted time to MHA’s lawyer to seek instructions in the matter.
The high court again took up the matter on July 29 and it was informed by the MHA’s counsel that no decision has been taken by it on the interim measure as the ministry was waiting for a further report in respect of the petitioner from a foreign agency.
Rejecting the MHA’s contention, Justice Palli said a decision on whether the petitioner should be permitted to utilize a part of the foreign contribution in its possession ought not to be made dependent on a report from a foreign agency.
“Even otherwise, such a report, at best, would provide the respondent with further information that would enable it to decide the appropriate course of action in respect of the suspension order”, she added.
Appearing for the NGO, senior advocate Arvind Datar contended that the suspension order by the MHA was wholly illegal and contrary to the scheme of the FCRA. He said such an order could only be passed if the government had inquired into whether the cancellation of the registration certificate was necessary in public interest.
“In the present case, however, the suspension order has been passed under Section 13 of the FCRA without initiating any such inquiries”, Datar argued.