CHRI allowed to utilise funds to pay salaries

Court order comes despite govt.’s appeal for more time to decide NGO’s request

The Delhi High Court on Thursday allowed Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), whose registration has been temporarily suspended for alleged violations of foreign contribution law, to utilise a portion of its funds in the Central government’s custody for payment of salaries to employees.

Justice Rekha Palli said that Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative made out a prima facie case to “utilise the amount lying in custody to the extent of 25% to meet expenses pertaining to salaries of employees and other personnel engaged in projects undertaken before passing of the impugned order [of suspension]”.

The court’s order came despite Central government standing counsel Anil Soni’s request for more time to decide the CHRI’s request as the authority concerned was awaiting the report of the field agency.

“How are these people going to be paid? I don’t want to give you time,” Justice Palli said adding, “Keeping in view COVID-19, the employees are finding it hard to meet ends…”

“In my view, the decision whether the petitioner can be permitted to use portion of foreign contribution in possession cannot depend on the field agency. It can at best be a material to take further appropriate action on the suspension order,” the court said, while posting the matter for further hearing on October 5.

Entitled to use

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, representing the CHRI, contended that the NGO was entitled to utilise up to 25% of the amount in custody as per law until such time as the suspension of its registration was revoked.

The CHRI had moved the High Court challenging a June 7 order passed by the Home Ministry, suspending its registration for 180 days.

CHRI’s counsel said that the suspension order is contrary to the framework of the scheme set out under the Act and even the suspension was passed without initiating any inquiry and it liable to be set aside.

The NGO has said that the suspension order was “unreasonable, manifestly arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate, on the face of it being based on wholly incorrect facts and for violating basic principles of natural justice”.

It said the suspension order has “completely paralysed” its functioning, “threatens the livelihood of its employees and casts a stigma on its reputation”.

“A 180-day suspension is a drastic measure that threatens the very existence of the petitioner [CHRI], apart from causing great harm to its reputation built painstakingly over three decades. The consequent freezing of petitioner’s receipt and utilisation bank accounts have severely restricted its planned programme activities,” its petition said.

The CHRI said it was not in a position to pay salaries to its 40 staff members and consultants, whose livelihoods depend on it, especially in these difficult times precipitated by COVID-19. 

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