Delhi HC seeks Centre's reply on CHRI's plea challenging suspension of its registration

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New Delhi, July 19 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Monday sought the Centre's reply on a plea by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) challenging the suspension of its registration for 180 days for alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

Justice Rekha Palli issued notice to the Centre and asked it to file the reply.

The court also granted time to the Centre’s counsel to get instructions on permitting CHRI to utilise 25 per cent of the amount received as foreign funding till the suspension of its registration is revoked.

The court, which listed the matter for further hearing on July 26, also asked the central government’s counsel to take instructions if it would allow CHRI to receive foreign fund in future, subject to not utilizing them without permission of the authorities or of the court.

During the hearing, Central government standing counsel Anil Soni submitted that as per the rules, they have 180 days time to respond to the NGO seeking to revoke the suspension order and they have initiated the inquiry which will take some time to conclude.

The judge, however, said she does not find merit in the submission and added, “I am not going to give you this endless time of 180 days.” Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for the CHRI, submitted that the suspension order is contrary to the framework of the scheme set out under the Act and even the suspension was passed without initiating any inquiry and it liable to be set aside.

He said the suspension of CHRI's registration was disproportionate to the alleged violations of the FCRA.

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

It had said the court cannot ask people to suffer in COVID times and opined that prima facie the organisation should be allowed to pay salaries.

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

The organisation’s counsel had earlier 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 June 7 suspension order for being allegedly patently without jurisdiction, ultra vires section 13 of the 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 the petitioner's receipt and utilisation bank accounts have severely restricted its planned programme activities, the petition said.

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 has said.

The petition highlighted 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 Indi, is its Chairperson. The other committee members include former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur and former Delhi high court Chief Justice A P 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. PTI SKV SA

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