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Centre Cannot Brand Organisations ‘Political’: SC

Topics Covered: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

Centre Cannot Brand Organisations ‘Political’: SC

What to study?

For Prelims: Overview of the judgment, FCRA guidelines on foreign funding to NGOs, eligibility.

For Mains: Significance and implications of this judgment, Misuse of foreign funds, issues and the need for stringent measures to prevent the misuse of foreign funds.

Context: The Supreme Court recently held that the central government cannot brand an organisation political and deprive it of its right to receive foreign funds for using legitimate forms of dissent to aid a public cause.

What’s the case?

A petition was filed by the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) challenging certain provisions of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010 and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules of 2011.

The Central Government is conferred with unguided and uncanalised power under these Laws to brand organisations ‘political’ and shut down their access to foreign funds.

Various provisions in question:

  1. Section 5(1) of the FCRAwas challenged for being vague as it allowed the Centre to decide freely whether a seemingly non-political organisation was actually political in nature.
  2. Section 5(4) of the FCRAwas questioned as it did not exactly identify the authority before which an organisation could represent its grievance.
  3. Various clauses of Rule 3 of the 2011 Ruleswere challenged. This provision identified the various types of ‘political’ activities for which/organisations whose foreign funding could be stopped by the government.

Observations made by the Supreme Court:

  1. An 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.
  2. However, foreign funding could be stopped if an organisation took recourse to these forms of protest to score a political goal.
  3. Organisations with political objectives in their memorandum of association or bye-laws cannot be permitted access to foreign funds because of their clear political nature.

Implications and significance of the judgment:

The Supreme Court agreeing with the observations made in the earlier judgment of the Delhi High Court has held that the provisions made under the FCR act and rules are “expansive” and not vague. It has thus dismissed the arguments of the provisions being unconstitutional.

The order makes it clear that administration is not influenced by foreign- funded political organisation.

However, the Central government cannot classify an organization political for using legitimate forms of dissent like bandh, hartal, road roko or jail ‘bharo’ to aid a public cause. The court noted that such a classification would deprive the organization of its right to receive foreign funds.

Insta Link:

Prelims Link:

  1. Overview of FCRA.
  2. Definition of foreign contributions.
  3. Eligibility and exceptions under the law.

Mains Link:

Discuss the significance of recent Supreme Court judgment Which said that Centre cannot brand an organisation as ‘political’ for aiding a public cause.

Sources: the Hindu.