Plea challenging FCRA provisions dismissed

New Delhi: A plea challenging the Centre`s power to declare a social outfit to be a political one, curtailing its right to receive monetary contribution from foreign sources, has been dismissed by the Delhi High Court.

The plea by civil society Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) had sought annulment of some provision of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act dealing with the procedure to notify an organisation of a political nature on the ground that the same may be misused by the government.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, however, dismissed the plea saying a law cannot be declared ultra vires only on the fears of its possible misuse.

"The writ petition, being devoid of substance, stands dismissed without any order as to costs," the bench said.

The Centre has enacted the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 and framed rules in 2011 to regulate the receipt of monetary fund from foreign sources by civil societies, scribes and media organisation and political parties.

INSAF had sought annulment of FCRA provisions on procedure to declare an outfit as a political one contending that "some of the terms like activity, ideology and programme" used in these provisions have been left undefined.

And the vagueness of these terms confers unbridled and unfettered power on the executive, and has left it open to misuse by the Centre, INSAF counsel Sanjay Parikh contended before the court.

But the bench dismissed Parikh`s contention saying the cases of misuse of power by the government could be challenged before appropriate courts.

The court also rejected the petitioner`s argument that certain activities are sometimes undertaken for advancement of the political interest of marginalised sections and the same cannot be put under the category of political interest and the organisation engaged in it cannot be said to be political one.

The lawyer has contended that an organisation engaged in political actions which include `bandh`, `hartal` or `jail bharo` cannot be regarded as an organisation involved in political activities to be denied foreign contribution.

"The apprehension in the mind of the petitioner that there would be abuse of power and some organisations may be unnecessarily harassed, we are disposed to think, is not to be taken note of while dealing with the validity of a statutory provision or the Rule made thereunder.

"The same shall be subject to judicial scrutiny when the order is passed. Thus, the aforesaid submission, being bereft of merit, is rejected," the bench said.

The bench also rejected INSAF`s contention that FCRA`s procedure to notify an organisation as a political outfit also imposes restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

"It is extremely difficult to accept the submission that the restrictions imposed are unreasonable as they affect the freedom of speech and expression. What is restricted is acceptance of foreign contribution," the bench said.

"There is no prohibition or restriction on voicing the plight or grievances of the marginalised sections of people or to protest as permissible in a democratic body polity under the framework of the Constitution," the court added.

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