The move to stir up a hornet’s nest
Maharashtra State Charity Commissioner Shivkumar Dige has issued an order directing around 400 non-government organisations (NGOs) and trusts registered in the state to remove the words 'corruption' and 'human rights' from their names or risk suspension under the Maharashtra Public Trusts Act 1950.
Speaking to The Afternoon Despatch and Courier, a spokesperson for Dige said that many organisations have been using the words like “Manvadhikar” (human rights), “Bhrashtachar Nirmulan’ (eradiction of corruption) etc in their title. However a few organisations have been indulging in pressure tactics and trying to stall government projects. They have also been misusing the word ‘corruption’ and targeting individuals and some officials. They do not have the right to do this. This misleads people. Also, according to a High Court judgment, the eradication of corruption cannot be the social objective of an organisation”.
“The Maharashtra Human Rights Commission had written to us to take action against such organisations. Only government authorities can deal with human rights violations and not private institutions. Therefore, the orders have been issued to remove the words from these organizations’ names, by the commissioner. If they do not follow the order, we will have to suspend the trustees of such organisations”.
But several NGOs have objected to the commissioner’s move, arguing that the Charity Commissioner’s office should have raised these objections while registering their organisations. Speaking to The Afternoon Despatch and Courier, Sulaiman Bhimani, President, “Human Rights Commission, Maharashtra, said that the order of the charity commissioner will certainly be challenged in the court. All India Anti-Corruption Committee, which has two million members and has been working against corruption for 20 years.
In 2016 the office of the Charity Commissioner in Pune, had taken similar action against 16 NGOs with the word 'corruption' in their names, including Anna Hazare’s “Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan (BVJA)”. Dige, who was then Joint Charity Commissioner in Pune, had suspended trustees and Hazare from BVJA and had appointed an inspector in registration office in Ahmednagar, as an administrator on BVJA.
The issue then turned into a major face-off after Hazare refused to change name of his NGO and said the government should focus on removing corruption instead of harassing NGOs. He then approached the Bombay High Court against the order. The case is pending before the high court.
Article 19(1) (c) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens the right to form associations, or unions or Co- Operative Societies. But under clause (4) of the Article 19, the state can impose reasonable restrictions on this right in the interest of public order or morality or the sovereignty and integrity of India.
The right to form association includes the right to form companies, societies, trusts, partnerships, trade union and political parties. The right guaranteed is not merely the right to form association but also to continue with the association as such. The freedom to form association implies also the freedom to form or not to form, to join or not to join, an association or union.
There are a sizable number of committees fighting against “corruption” and some of them also have Marathi actors as their members and doing honest job. As such charity commissioner’s blanket ban on the use of word “corruption” is certain to kick of major controversy.