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Setalvad and her organizations have been at the forefront of protests against crimes committed against Muslims during the Gujarat riots of 2002. Photo: Hindustan Times
Setalvad and her organizations have been at the forefront of protests against crimes committed against Muslims during the Gujarat riots of 2002. Photo: Hindustan Times

Home ministry cancels Sabrang Trust’s FCRA licence

The move means Sabrang Trust, operated by Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, can no longer receive foreign funding

New Delhi: Activist Teesta Setalvad’s not-for-profit Sabrang Trust saw its licence to receive foreign funding cancelled by the ministry of home affairs, as per an order uploaded on the ministry website late on Thursday evening.

Sabrang, run by Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand said in a statement that it is going to “actively explore all legal options to challenge the order".

Anand told Mint over the phone that while they are yet to receive the order, they have seen it online.

As per the notice on the website of the home ministry, the nodal agency in charge of monitoring Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), the licence to receive foreign funds of Sabrang Trust was suspended on 9 September 2015, and a show-cause notice was sent to the organization demanding an explanation.

FCRA, drafted during the Emergency era, was amended in 2010 and is meant to oversee flow of foreign funds to not-for-profit organizations, journalists and politicians. The last category has been removed from its purview by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

The law has been in the news for mass cancellation of licences of not-for-profit organizations last year (close to 10,000), suspension and investigation of high profile civil society organizations like Greenpeace India, Setalvad’s organizations—Sabrang Trust, Sabrang Communications and Centre for Peace and Justice—and most recently, Lawyers Collective.

Setalvad and her organizations have been at the forefront of protests against crimes committed against Muslims during the Gujarat riots of 2002 and have been sharply critical of the then state government led by Narendra Modi, now Prime Minister.

On Thursday, three United Nations experts called on the Indian government to repeal the FCRA. The statement issued by UN special rapporteurs on human rights Michel Forst, David Kaye and Maina Kiai comes amid protests by non-profits in the country and just days after the suspension of Lawyers Collective, founded by former solicitor general of India and senior advocate Indira Jaising.

According to the UN experts’ statement, FCRA is being “increasingly used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding and fails to comply with international human rights norms and standards".

Forst is the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Kaye is special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and Kiai is rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Kiai has also separately submitted a legal critique against FCRA to the government of India in April.

All three are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, which is the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system.

Though Forst, Kaye and Kiai’s statement does not directly refer to all the organizations and focuses its criticism based on action against Lawyers Collective, it expresses alarm over FCRA provisions being used “more and more to silence organizations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the government".

They urged the government “to reverse its decision and embrace the invaluable contribution of... human rights defenders in upholding constitutional values in India". The experts also suggested that authorities should ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and civil society, which play a critical role in “holding the government to account and buttressing Indian democracy".

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