The Bombay High Court has ordered defreezing of the domestic and non-FCRA bank accounts of ‘Lawyers Collective’, an NGO run by former Additional Solicitor General of India Indira Jaisingh, observing that FCRA “does not provide for a government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations”.
Justice M S Sonak in an interim order on Monday restrained the Charity Commissioner from attaching the assets and accounts of the NGO. The HC also ordered defreezing of the domestic and non-FCRA bank accounts of the NGO.
The court observed that while the Union government had powers under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to “regulate or, even prevent the acceptance of foreign funds by an association, the Act did not provide for a government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations.”
In November last year, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had cancelled permanently the FCRA registration of ‘Lawyers Collective’, alleging misuse of foreign funds.
The Ministry had also directed that all bank accounts of the NGO be frozen and that its assets be attached.
The NGO then approached the HC arguing that the MHA order that takes recourse of sections 22 and 15 of the FCRA was erroneous and that the sections had been misinterpreted.
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, appearing for the NGO, argued that FCRA provisions allowed for disposal of assets of only such organisations that had become defunct, but the NGO was an existing entity that conducted extensive legal research in the fields of health and social justice.
The Union government, through Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, argued on the other hand that the MHA’s cancellation order was valid since the “trustees of Lawyers Collective had diverted the money received for the NGO for personal gains”.
Justice Sonak, however, observed that some of the allegations levelled by MHA were “quite vague” and since the appeal will be taken up for final hearing to decide upon the legality of the MHA’s decision, it would not be appropriate to halt the functioning of the NGO in the meanwhile.