The government cannot prevent NGOs and other social outfits from getting foreign funds just because they used political means to mobilise and awaken people, the Supreme Court said, while ruling that the bar under the Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FERA) applied only to political parties. 

The statute that prevents organisations of a political nature from receiving foreign funds is to ensure that the administration is not influenced by foreign funds, a two-member bench comprising Justices L Nageshwar Rao and Deepak Gupta said on Friday. On the other hand, voluntary organisations which have absolutely no connection with either party politics or active politics cannot be denied access to foreign contributions by enlarging the scope of the term ‘political interests’, it said. 

The ruling came on a case involving NGO Indian Social Action Forum, which was represented in court by lawyer Sanjay Parikh. 

Any organisation which habitually engages itself in or employs common methods of political action like ‘bandh’ or ‘hartal’, ‘rasta roko’, ‘rail roko’ or ‘jail bharo’ in support of public causes can also be declared as an organisation of political nature, according to rules under the FCRA. 

The judges, however, said organisations which were not involved in active politics or party politics would not come under these rules. 

Support to public causes by resorting to legitimate means of dissent such as bandh and hartal cannot deprive an organisation of its legitimate right of receiving foreign contribution, the bench said. It is clear from the provision itself that bandh, hartal, rasta roko etc., are treated as common methods of political action, it added.

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