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Home Ministry suspension of rights activist Teesta Setalvad-led Sabrang Trust's FCRA termed "malafide"

By Our Representative
In a detailed 24-page response dated October 5, 2015, prominent human rights activist Teesta Setalvad’s Sabrang Trust, Mumbai, has challenged the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) Foreign Contributon Regulation Act (FCRA) department’s September 9 order suspending its FCRA registration as "malafide".
The MHA served the notice amidst Teesta’s dogged effort to bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to books for his alleged participation in the 2002 Gujarat riots through the petition filed by Zakia Jafri, the veteran of Ehsan Jafri, ex-Congress MP, who was murdered by the saffron mob on February 28, 2002.
In a statement, the trust has said, it is “shocked and surprised” by the MHA order for “completely ignoring” point-by-point response that Sabrang Trust had submitted on June 5 and 25 following the MHA/FCRA team’s queries and on-the-spot inspection of the trust’s accounts on April 9-11.
The statement has been made even as the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday rejected the plea by Setlavad to defreeze the bank accounts of the Sabrang Trust by the Crime Branch of the Gujarat Police.
 “Sabrang Trust maintains that the manner in which the order mechanically repeats the alleged violations of FCRA, 2010 and Foreign Contribution Regulation Rules (FCRR) 2011 as set out in its earlier ‘observations’ clearly shows that the order has been passed without any application of mind and suffers from arbitrariness”, the statement says.
Giving details of rebuttal, the Sabrang Trust has said, the main allegation is, Teesta and her husband Javed Anand are co-editors of” Communalism Combat” published by Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt. Ltd (SCPP), and also write for other periodicals and newspapers, and thus the Sabrang Trust has violated provisions of the FCRA Act.
Pointing out that it is the Sabrang Trust, which was granted registration under FCRA, that is “prohibited from publishing or acting as correspondent, columnist, editor, etc.”, the response says, “Nowhere does the letter place any restriction or prohibition on any of its board members or office bearers being publishers, editors, printers, etc. of a registered newspaper run by some other independent legal entity.”
Further, it says, Section 3(1)(b) of FCRA, 2010 must be read with Section 4 of FCRA, 2010. It quotes Section 4 as saying: “Nothing contained in section 3 shall apply to the acceptance, by any person specified in that section, of any foreign contribution where such contribution is accepted by him, subject to the provisions of Section 10 – (a) by way of salary, wages, or other remuneration due to him or to any group of persons working under him, from any source or by way of payment in the ordinary course of business transacted in India by such foreign source”.
Coming to the allegation that 64.23% and 55.14% of donations for the years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 had been spent on administrative expenses, the statement says, “The inspection team has concluded that administrative expenses were in excess of the permitted 50% limit only the basis of an entirely erroneous reading of Rule 5 of FCRR, 2011.”
Underlining that a detailed account of “administrative expenses” has been submitted, it says, “Expenses directly related to project execution are not to be included in administrative expenses.”
Then there is the allegation that Rs 50 lakh were reimbursed to SCPPL were transferred for personal gain, about which the statement says, the so-called transfer of Rs 50 lakh (between 2006-07 and 2013-14, i.e. 7 years) by Sabrang Trust to SCPPL “appears to be exaggerated.”
The only “transfer” was by Sabrang Trust to SCPPL was “towards its agreed monthly share of shared actual expenses incurred on office/furniture and fixtures/office equipments/staff. None of this amount was paid to Teesta Setalvad or Javed Anand, and no rent has ever been charged to any trust or entity for use of office space from Teesta Setalvad’s parents”, the statement says.
As for the total amount, “even assuming the inspection team’s figure to be correct, it means payment of an average of around Rs 7 lakh per year or less than Rs. 60,000 per month towards shared actual expenses incurred on: staff salaries (9 employees); repair and maintenance of office space; repair, maintenance, upgradation of office equipments (including 12 computers, printers, photocopier, fax machine etc.); electricity bills etc.”, the statement says.
“Nowhere does FCRA or FCRR bar an association with FCRA registration from a cost-saving, expenses-sharing arrangement with other association(s), whether registered under FCRA or not”, the statement says.

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