NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the Centre cannot deprive NGOs of their right to receive foreign money by declaring them as political organisations if they use legitimate means of dissent to support public causes. Section 5 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA) gives the Union government “unchecked and unbridled powers” to declare an organisation as being one of political nature and deny it access to funds from sources abroad.
Friday’s ruling by a bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta was in response to a plea by an NGO—India Social Action Forum (INSAF)—challenging the constitutional validity of Section 5 (1) and 5 (4) of the FCRA and other rules.
“It is clear from the provision itself that bandhs, hartals, rasta rokos, etc. are treated as common methods of political action,” the Supreme Court observed. Any organisation that supports the cause of a group of citizens agitating for their rights without a political goal or objective cannot be penalised by being declared an organisation of political nature,” the court ruled.
The court also made it clear that organisations used for channeling foreign funds by political parties cannot escape the rigour of FCRA.“To save this provision from being declared unconstitutional, we hold it is only those organisations that have connection with active politics or take part in politics, that are covered,” the order by the apex court reads. It further added that a balance had to be struck between that objective and the right of organisations to have access to foreign funds.
Yardstick set for evaluation
The Centre must consider the activities of an organisation, including its association with any political party, before calling it as one of “political nature not being a political party”, the SC said.