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, says a report
from Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy (CAP).
Earlier the Office of 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, which has been suspended. The NGO’s case to regain its registration is pending in Court.
According to press reports, the State Charity Commissioner is of the view that the government has the machinery to prevent corruption and protect human rights. “There were complaints that a few organisations were misusing these words and cheating people," Mr Dige is reported to have told the press.
He also told the press: “Eradicating corruption is the government’s duty and the government authorities have those rights. However, a few organisations are misusing the word ‘corruption’ and targeting an individual or some officials. But, they do not have the right to do this. This is misleading for the common people. Also, according to a High Court judgment, the eradication of corruption cannot be the social objective of an organisation”.
Objecting to the use of the word “human rights” by organisations, Mr Dige reportedly said the state Human Rights Commission can take care of issues of violation. “Many organisations use the words ‘human rights’ in their names. But, the state Human Rights Commission has written to us to take action against these organisations. Only government authorities can deal with human rights violations, and not private institutions. Therefore, I have issued the order to remove the words from these organizations’ names,” Mr Dige told the press.
According to press reports, the charity commissioner’s office will issue notices to organisations to remove the words from their names. “If they do not follow the order, we will have to suspend the trustees of the organisation,” the Charity Commissioner has said.
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.” Under clause (4) of the Article 19, however, the State may by law impose reasonable restrictions on this right in the interest of public order or morality or the sovereignty and integrity of India, says the report from CAP, a non-profit company offering compliance related advisory to non-profits and corporate social initiatives.
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.
According to CAP, several NGOs have objected to the State’s move, arguing that the Charity Commissioner’s office should have raised objections while registering their organisations. All India Anti-Corruption Committee, which has two million members and has been working against corruption for 20 years has said that it will challenge the order in Court, the report says.
Earlier in 2016, when Mr Dige was Joint Charity Commissioner at Pune, he had suspended trustees and social activist Hazare from the name of their NGO, 'Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan' for not dropping 'anti-corruption' from the NGO's name. In his order, Mr Dige, had said, “As my order was not complied with, the trustees are being suspended till final orders in the case. The inspector at the trust registration office in Ahmednagar is being appointed as its administrator.”
The issue then turned into a major face-off after Mr Hazare announced his refusal to change name of his NGO. He had said the government should focus on removing corruption instead of harassing NGOs.
Mr Hazare even approached the Bombay High Court against the order issued by the Office of Charity Commissioner. The case is pending before the HC.