New Delhi, Jan 17: The Congress-led Central government may have given relief to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare but has kept the sword of criminal angle hanging over his supporters. Yesterday, the government finally admitted before the Delhi High Court that it found nothing to warrant a criminal investigation into utilisation of foreign funds by a few NGOs affiliated to Hazare's civil society organisation.
But the government also said "some irregularities were found and these are not serious at this stage to warrant a criminal investigation." What does this mean? The implicit message is that we will not trouble the activists but can take action if they go against the government.
The Ministry of Home affairs, in a status report filed before the bench of Chief Justice D Murugesan and Justice VK Jain, said NGOs Navjyoti Indian Foundation and India Vision Foundation of Kiran Bed and NGO Kabir run by Manish Sisodia did receive foreign funds but these were not used for any political activity or the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement.
The government said technical irregularities were found relating to accounting. "Inspections were carried out in Aug and also in Nov 2012 under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and FCR Rules and some irregularities were found," the report says.
"These irregularities are not serious enough at this stage to warrant a criminal investigation. During inspection no documentary proof in the records of the association was found to show the use of the fund in any such political activity or in India Against Corruption (IAC) movement or agitation," said the ministry report.
The bench was hearing a PIL seeking CBI enquiry against the members of erstwhile Team Anna for allegedly receiving funds from foreign organisations without government's permission and running their agitation for a Lokpal Bill.
An advocate Manohar Lal Sharma had filed the PIL in the court listing several Team Anna members, including Hazare, Sisodia, Arvind Kejriwal, Bedi, Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan as respondents. His petition argued, "This civil society group, jointly and severally, has been receiving funds from Ford Foundation and other foreign companies/organisations for running their anti-graft movement."
Sharma had sought the court's opinion on whether foreign-sponsored movement/anti-government graft agitation is permitted under the Constitution of India and whether violation of foreign contribution (regulation) Act, 1976 is not an offence.
According to the affidavit, cash was disbursed to several persons without justification or record, most of the foreign contribution has been spent on tours and travel without approval of trustee and Sisodia has been getting salary for discharging his duties, said the affidavit, adding that Kabir's present office runs from residential flat of Sisodia's wife.
Sharma's contention was that no citizen was allowed to receive any foreign contribution without prior permission of the Union government within the provision of the FCRA. He also insists that the Constitution does not allow any foreign-sponsored agitation in any manner in the country.
Who will needle political parties?
The Delhi High Court has directed the Election Commission and the central government to file responses on a petition seeking action against political parties, which have violated the law relating to foreign funds. The hearing in the matter has been set as Feb 4.
The petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms alleged that both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have violated the Representation of People's Act, 1951 and Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act by taking donations from government companies and foreign sources, which is prohibited under both legislations.
The petition alleges that the donation of huge sums of money made by the Vedanta Group is in clear violation of the FCR Act of 1976 and the FCR Act of 2010.
The BJP and Congress have declared in their annual contribution reports submitted to the EC that they have received funds from the Vedanta Group, which is a foreign company listed on London Stock Exchange.
To monitor such activities, the EC had written last year to the government suggesting amendments to the election law to make it mandatory for political parties to declare monetary contributions received from foreign companies and government bodies.
The EC has suggested that political parties should be asked to furnish details about contributions received from foreign companies and also those from government bodies. It wants contributions received by political parties to have audit reports attached to their declarations and should specify what amount they received in cheques and how much was paid in cash.
Currently, political parties only report amount or contribution received above Rs 20,000.