The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that bandhs and hartals are a “legitimate means of dissent”, and an organisation which is not directly related to a political party but supports such activities cannot be deprived of “its legitimate right of receiving foreign contribution”.
The court was hearing an appeal by Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), a “registered society involved in resisting globalisation, combating communalism and defending democracy”, against the Delhi High Court judgment which dismissed its petition challenging Sections 5 (1) and 5 (4) of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 and Rules 3 (i), 3 (v) and 3 (vi) of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules, as violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta read down Rule 3 (vi) of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules, 2011, and said that “any organisation which supports the cause of a group of citizens agitating for their rights without a political goal or objective cannot be penalised by being declared as an organisation of a political nature”.
However, the top court rejected the contention that the provisions were unconstitutional. It said, “To save this provision from being declared as unconstitutional, we hold that it is only those organisations which have connection with active politics or take part in party politics, that are covered by Rule 3 (vi). To make it clear, such of those organisations which are not involved in active politics or party politics do not fall within the purview of Rule 3 (vi).”
The court also read down Rule 3 (v) and said, “A balance has to be drawn between the object that is sought to be achieved by the legislation and the rights of the voluntary organisations to have access to foreign funds. The purpose for which the statute prevents organisations of a political nature from receiving foreign funds is to ensure that the administration is not influenced by foreign funds… On the other hand, such of those voluntary organisations which have absolutely no connection with either party politics or active politics cannot be denied access to foreign contributions. Therefore, such of those organisations which are working for the social and economic welfare of the society cannot be brought within the purview of the Act or the Rules by enlarging the scope of the term ‘political interests’. We are of the opinion that the expression ‘political interests’ in Rule 3 (v) has to be construed to be in connection with active politics or party politics.”
The bench clarified that “organisations used for channelling foreign funds by political parties cannot escape the rigour of the Act provided there is concrete material” and added that in such event, “the Central Government shall follow the procedure prescribed in the Act and Rules strictly before depriving such organisation the right to receive foreign contributions”.
The court agreed that the words “political interests” in the Act and Rules “are vague and are susceptible to misuse”.
However, it added that possible abuse of power is not a ground to declare a provision unconstitutional.
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