Geneva: India on Thursday said actions were taken against some civil society organisations due to their illegal practices, including mala fide rerouting of money and continuing violations of foreign exchange management rules and tax laws of the country, reiterating that such groups must operate in accordance with the law.
As the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India’s human rights record is underway in Geneva, some member states raised concerns over the issue of the Foreign Contribution (regulation) Act, 2010.
Ireland voiced concern about the application of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, under which over 6,000 NGOs have had their operation licenses revoked.
Responding to the questions raised by member states concerning the FCRA, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta said that actions were taken against some organisations due to their “illegal practices, including mala fide rerouting of money and willful and continuing violations of extant legal provisions, foreign exchange management rules and tax laws of India”.
“It is important to reiterate that civil society organisations are permitted to operate in India, but must do so in accordance with the law,” he said.
Mehta, who is leading the Indian delegation for the UPR, noted that India is home to over 100,000 vibrant, proactive and independent civil society organisations and NGOs, which play an important role in the protection and promotion of human rights.
He said the FCRA provides the basic framework under which NGOs wish to seek funds from abroad for their activities in India.
The legal provisions of the Act are similar to regulations in other democratic countries, he said, adding that the process of registration under the Act is transparent and technology driven.
“All data related to registration, renewal, annual returns are in the public domain. In cases of refusal, reasons and provisions under the Act and rules are specifically cited and the applicant is duly informed,” he said.
He added that even if any renewal application is rejected or cancelled, the organisation can still continue its operation and receive foreign funds by seeking permission on a case to case basis. As per current data, 16,542 organisations are eligible to receive foreign funds under the Act.
In brief statements, UN member states voiced their recommendations to India over various issues.
The US called on India to improve transparency of license adjudications related to the FCRA as well as ensure prosecution of those responsible for human rights abuses.
The US said that it shares with India, the world’s largest democracy, the values of democracy, free speech, pluralism and tolerance.
It said Washington encourages New Delhi to continue striving toward those ideals in consultation with civil society.
We recommend that India reduce the broad application of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and similar laws against human rights activists, journalists and religious minorities, ratify the Convention Against Torture and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses, improve the transparency of license adjudications related to Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), and create easier pathways for NGOs to appeal adverse government decisions on FCRA licenses, the US delegate said.
The FCRA registration is mandatory for any association and NGO to receive foreign funding.
Last month, the Centre cancelled the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licence of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), a non-government organisation associated with the Gandhi family, for alleged violations of the law, officials had said. The action came after investigations carried out by an inter-ministerial committee formed by the home ministry in 2020.
The US also noted that despite legal protections, discrimination and violence based on gender and religious affiliation persist.
“The application of anti-terror legislation has led to prolonged detentions of human rights defenders and activists often on a pre-trial status, the US delegate said.
Member States also raised the issue of the death penalty and recommended that India put in place a nationwide moratorium on the application of the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition.
Mehta responded by saying that in India, the death penalty is imposed only in the rarest of rare cases , when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed”, where the crime committed is so heinous that it shocks the conscience of the society.”
He said that while imposing the death sentence, the court has to record its special reasons for arriving at such a drastic conclusion.
“There is no mandatory death sentence for any offence since it runs contrary to those statutory safeguards, which gives the judiciary the discretion in the matter of imposing the death penalty,” he said, adding that there are requisite procedural safeguards under the law, including right to a fair hearing by an independent court, presumption of innocence, guarantee for defence and right to review by higher courts.
“Death penalty in India must necessarily be confirmed by the superior constitutional court, whether challenged by the accused convict or not, he said.
He noted that the Supreme Court of India has adopted guidelines on clemency and treatment of death-row prisoners where in poverty, socio-economic compulsions among others constitute new mitigating factors to be considered by courts in commuting a death sentence to life imprisonment.
He added that in instances where death sentence is imposed, multiple avenues of review of death penalty are available to the death convict, including at the judicial and executive level.
Mehta said the President of India and the Governors of the states have the power to grant pardon, reprieves, respites or remissions of the punishment or to suspend or commute the sentence of death.
There is also a provision to file a curative petition under the Constitution of India, where the Supreme Court of India can review its own judgment or the order, he said.
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