The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the non-governmental organisations supporting public causes cannot be deprived of funds from foreign contributors and sources by the Centre, NDTV reported.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta said the organisations not associated with any political party, but demanding citizens’ rights through legitimate methods of expressing dissent, cannot be penalised.
It added that strikes and protests are common expressions of political action under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. “It is clear from the provision itself that bandhs, hartals, rasta rokos, etc. are treated as common methods of political action,” the court said. “Any organisation that support 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.”
A petition filed by the Indian Social Action Forum had challenged certain provisions of the FCRA, claiming it violated certain fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. “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,” Rao said.
Advocate Sanjay Parikh argued that curtailing the right of an organisation in having access to foreign funds would result in the violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(c) of the Constitution relating to free speech and peaceful protests, News18 reported.
The petition challenged the Centre’s unchecked powers to categorise any NGO as “organisation of political nature, not being a political party”, and to stop foreign funding.
The top court said a balance had to be drawn between that objective and the rights of voluntary organisations to have access to foreign aid, adding that “political interests” in the Rule are “vague and are susceptible to misuse”.
The government has in the past registered cases against human rights organisation Amnesty India over alleged violation of rules under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.