CHRI challenges FCRA cancellation, Delhi HC asks Centre to respond

The Delhi High Court on Monday asked the Centre to respond to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)’s petition challenging the cancellation of its FCRA registration by MHA last month.

However, the court refused to grant any interim relief to the NGO with respect to Section 15 of FCRA which allows the Central government to take over the foreign contribution, related assets and management of the organisation whose FCRA registration stands cancelled.

“Presently bearing in mind the violations which are noticed, we are not inclined to grant stay,” said Justice Yashwant Varma, while listing the case for hearing in September.
Senior Advocate C U Singh, representing CHRI, argued that the cancellation order fails to record any reasoning and does not deal with the response submitted earlier by the NGO in response to the show cause notice.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma submitted that the Centre will file a reply to the petition. “According to the petition, they submitted 4000-5000 pages. All that has been subsumed in the audit report. The [cancellation] order will not reflect all that,” Sharma said.

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CHRI in the petition argued that each of the four grounds on which its decades-old FCRA registration has been cancelled are “wrong, false, incorrect and/or misconceived”. It has also been contended by CHRI that each of the grounds mentioned in the cancellation order are compoundable upon payment of penalty. The decision to cancel the FCRA registration is grossly disproportionate and unreasonable, read the petition.

“Even after a detailed and thorough audit and inspection into its activities and accounts there isn’t a single allegation against the Petitioner of misutilization of funds or of acting against public or national interest,” CHRI has argued, adding that it has “a long and demonstrable history” of being a valuable resource for the Central and state Governments in India.

CHRI’s FCRA registration was already under suspension since June 2021 and continued till its cancellation on April 19. In the petition, CHRI said that it is not in a position to pay the salaries to its staff and consultants. The staff has come down from 40 to 19 at present since the suspension of registration, as per the petition.

“The audit and inspection of Petitioner’s accounts, records, and activities under S. 20 and S. 23 of FCRA, 2010 (as authorised on 29.07.2021 and as conducted from 09.08.2021 to 14.08.2021) was of questionable integrity and the reliability of the audit process itself is doubtful,” CHRI has said.

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MHA in the cancellation order last month had said that CHRI deposited around Rs 31.90 Lakh of consultation fee in its FC account but the same is not covered under the definition of foreign contribution” under the Act. It also accused CHRI of providing incomplete information with regard to its projects for 2018-19 and utilising foreign contributions on activities beyond the scope of the Act.

Contending that the one-time deposit of around Rs 32 Lakh is covered under foreign contribution definition, the CHRI has said that it provided all information regarding foreign contribution to the authorities for the year 2018-19. On alleged utilisation of foreign contribution beyond the scope of the Act, the CHRI has said that the ground is too vague.

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