Public Interest Litigation filed by Foreign Funded NGOs: Whose Interest?
Public Interest Litigation is a form of Judicial Remedy and is recognized as a Constitutional Right of all subjects in our country. Among the many criteria that Courts use to admit PILs is one where they check whether the petition is indeed one which serves public interest. Many PILs have been dismissed as the petitioner may have a hidden private interest.
PILs have been filed by individuals, organizations as well as by NGOs. Typically, when NGOs file a PIL or when their PILs are heard or judgement delivered, newspapers mention the name of the NGO. In the recent past, several such PILs have been filed by NGOs in various Courts in India.
- Just who are these NGOs?
- Where do they get the time and money for laborious legal procedures? Is it their part-time work or full-time? If the latter, what do they do for a living?
- Are they so much in love with the Indian public that they are fighting for *our* interest?
- Given that common Indian public have never clamoured for many of the causes that such NGOs litigate about, where do they get the idea on what to litigate on?
- Are such public interest litigations really in the interest of the public of this Nation?
In this Post, we shall examine several PILs filed by NGOs. The causes vary. The Courts vary. But, one thing is common. They have all been filed by foreign funded NGOs, or FCRA-NGOs in our parlance. As readers of my blog would know, FCRA is the Indian law which governs the flow of foreign funds to Indian organizations (NGOs, Government Orgs, etc..).
One may wonder on the need for such a compilation. Won’t the newspapers covering PILs by NGOs also mention the foreign funding aspect?
No. Not one newspaper mentioned it. They just mention NGO.
But, wait. Won’t Courts mention it in their verdict or observations or whatever?
No. Not one mention the foreign fundedness of the litigant NGO.
But wait. What is the big deal if they are foreign funded?
Allow me to elaborate on how a FCRA-NGO gets money from abroad. You see, every FCRA-NGO has to submit to their foreign donors (write a project proposal, say) on their prior activities in India, their interests and capabilities and have to describe what they plan to do if they receive a grant from the donor. The foreign donor then vets the proposal, finds the activities of the NGO to be consistent with its i.e., the foreign donor’s goals and decides to fund (or not) the Indian NGO via FCRA. Thus, when such a FCRA-NGO files a PIL, it is, by definition, acting on behalf of the foreign donor. There is no two ways to interpret this, given the mechanism of how the funds reached the FCRA-NGO.
Thus, we cannot be oblivious to the source of funds of the FCRA-NGO. We cannot divorce its actions from the intentions and desires of the foreign donor.
But, wait. Isn’t the World one peaceful Planet, populated by peace-loving people?
If you go down this route, you have lost me. Close the browser and bye.
But, wait, wait. Has not the new Government cracked down on FCRA-NGOs?
Hmm.. I have a building called Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru to sell you. Interested?
But wait wait. There is one more loophole. May be the FCRA-NGO is also receiving Indian donations from within India. May be it is using this INR money for the PIL. Won’t it be fine then?
No. Once a NGO receives foreign funds, its actions should be assumed to be congruent to the interests of the foreign donor. Thus, such NGOs must be suspected a priori.
What do I want?
- FCRA-NGOs should be barred from filing PILs
- If the above is not possible, a disclosure in each PIL that the Petitioner is an agent of foreign donors is required; Don’t get alarmed by the use of the word “agent”. Let us check out the situation of foreign funded NGOs in the country that sends the largest sum to our NGOs, i.e., USA. Such NGOs receiving foreign funds in USA are declared, by law, as “Foreign Agents”. Such Foreign Agents in USA (i.e., US citizens/residents who run a NGO there) must declare their foreign agentness in every one of their promotional material, whenever they meet any Government servant etc.
Given that I have come across innumerable number of people (likely addicted to television) who misunderstand blog posts, tweets etc., the following becomes necessary.
What am I not saying?
- I am not asking to forbid all NGOs from filing PILs. If a NGO is funded only by funds raised within India, of course it can be allowed to file PILs.
- I am not asking for forbidding of any kind of litigation by FCRA-NGOs. FCRA-NGOs should of course possess the right to file any kind of petition, except PILs.
- I have no public position on the legal matters of the PILs presented below, either for or against.
Ok then, Dive into the data below. Enjoy. Post your comments (be polite) in the comments section.
The footnote at the end describes how FCRA-NGOs are identified in the Tables below and lets you know how you can figure out their foreign funding yourselves.
[A] 2012. Himachal Pradesh High Court on HP’s “anti-conversion” law
Himachal Pradesh passed a Religious Freedom Bill in 2007. A section of it demanded that a person who failed to give due notice (to district authorities) before converting to another religion can be fined. This section was struck down by the HP HC. In all, Section 4 and Rules 3 and 5 of HP Freedom of Religion Rules, 2007, were struck down.
This ruling came due to a PIL filed by Evangelical Fellowship of India and ANHAD. Who are they?
The striking down of parts of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Rules was covered not only in India, but in USA as well. A few snippets:
So, tell me. Who got the PIL filed? If I say that the rabid evangelical Organization, Partners International of USA did it, can you contest that?
[B] Ban on Jallikattu, Kambala, Captive (Temple) Elephants
[C] Stray Dog Menace
Note how a person associated with Janaseva Sisubhavan filed the Oct. 2015 writ in Kerala HC, upon stray dog catching license cancellation. In the next month, the same FCRA-NGO files the PIL on stray dog menace in Kerala in Supreme Court, which is admitted, heard etc..
[D] Government enforcement of FCRA
[E] Board of Visitors to oversee Prisons
[F] Rules for Jogini/Devadasi Ban
[G] Missing Children, Alcoholism among Children
[H] Validity of Article 377
[I] Appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner and Vigilance Commisioner
[J] Road widening to be consistent with statutory norms
[K] World Cultural Festival near River Yamuna
[L] Field Trials of Genetically Modified Crops
[M] Human Rights etc.
[N] Right To Education
[O] Disabled Friendly Rail Stations
[P] Upgradation of Disposal Facilities of CFL bulbs
In the above, the FCRA-NGOs are identified by their name and also by their FCRA registration number. The latter is usually coded as “XY/123456789”, where “XY” is a two-letter code for the State in which the NGO is registered (KA=Karnataka, HR=Haryana etc..) and the 9-digit (sometimes 8-digit) number is the registration number.
The funding details of each FCRA-NGO can be checked by anyone at fcraonline.nic.in ; For its sources on PILs, this Post uses newspaper articles as well as many articles from livelaw.in ; They have all been hyperlinked within each description. I acknowledge these sources.
I also acknowledge the FCRA Wing, Ministry of Home Affairs for making available the FC6/FC4 returns in public domain, without having to go through via the idiotic RTI route. Two twitter well wishers are also thanked for their support and suggestions.