Make a law to control funds to NGOs, says SC
Hearing advocate Manohar Lal Sharma’s PIL that funds allocated to various NGOs, including Shri Kishan Baburao (Anna Hazare) organisation, from the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART), were not utilized for the specific purpose for which they were allotted, the Supreme Court suggested to the government on April 26 that it enact a law to regulate such disbursals.
The court bench of Chief Justice (CJI) JS Khehar and Justices DY Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed that the current system was not capable enough for controlling the entire process. It gave the government eight weeks to return with its views on this.
CAPART works under the Ministry of Rural Development because it disburses funds to NGOs working in rural areas. However, in disbursing funds, it has to correlate with 76 ministries and this becomes a problem. The organization has said that it had initially blacklisted 718 NGOs for not submitting their accounts as required, removing 15 from that list later for non-compliance.
Corruption at this level is huge, with no more than ten percent the three million NGOs in the country having so far submitted their balance sheets, audited or otherwise. This had been pointed out by the CBI in 2015.
On April 26, the government counsel said: “We are of the view that the guidelines need to be formulated by Niti Aayog.”
That did not go down well with the CJI. He said: “Niti Aayog is occupied with much larger issues, why will they be indulging with NGOs? We want to put things in order, not push something off. If government money is being paid to these people, then they need to be audited. The amicus submits that Rs seven crore has gone down the drain, therefore a statutory basis is needed. These guidelines are not going to help.”
Advocate ML Sharma of the petitioners said: “All of them, amicus and government, are diverting the issue. Section 409 of IPC says that when government money is sent to receiver, the burden is on the receiver to show what they have done with it and in case they don’t, they should be convicted. Why are we are taking the burden on us? It’s the receiver’s burden.”
—India Legal Bureau
Aadhar-PAN link issue stays hot
Arguments on why it will be mandatory for PAN to be linked to Aadhaar cards continued in the Supreme Court on April 26.
The bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan heard the day’s arguments in the case Binoy Viswam brought against the government.
The contentious issue stems from two petitions, challenging Section 139AA which was inserted in the Income Tax Act by the Finance Act, 2017. This makes Aadhaar mandatory for obtaining PAN, continued validity of PAN and for filing of return under the Income Tax Act.
The petitioner said: “An individual’s biometrics, iris scan are the property and entitlement of that individual and the state cannot coerce an individual to part with biometrics under the threat of penal consequences. The Constitution of India is not a charter for a police state…..”
On April 26, the government filed its counter affidavit.
Senior advocate Tushar Dattar, for the petitioner said: “The new provision shows that my PAN will be invalid as if it never existed if I don’t add my Aadhaar to it. The purpose of Aadhaar card was never for checking black money. Its use was that if you want any benefit then you can have Aadhaar. It was never mandatory. A person who lives hand-to-mouth, how he can he benefit from this?
“The other issue is that Aadhaar is not for natural persons. ITR can also be for Hindu Undivided Families or a company and all of them have PAN. How can we add Aadhaar to these PAN cards?” he asked.
The bench asked if that was enough ground to invalidate Aadhaar. The petitioner explained how he will be deprived if he goes for a loan and the PAN is not valid any more.
Arguments continued, with the petitioner pointing out that Aadhaar cards may also be duplicated.
Arguments to continue on April 27.
—India Legal Bureau
Committee submits first report to NGT
The Ganga Action Plan case of MC Mehta lingers at the Green Bench. The last time the bench heard this case, it set up a committee comprising senior officers from the Ministry of Water Resources, the Central Pollution Control Board, the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board.
They were to visit 12 industries polluting the Bagada drain in Bijnor and Kanpur and were to file a joint inspection report before the tribunal.
On April 26, the committee presented its report and said it needs more time to submit a comprehensive report. The bench allowed this, but took the initial report of the committee.
According to that initial report these industries were found to violate various environment norms and were using fresh ground water without any permission from the authorities. The condition is so bad that flying ash in the area has reduced visibility.
One fraud was by a pharmaceutical company which was simply adding fresh water to untreated waste and then terming it as “treated”.
Matter again listed for April 27.
—India Legal Bureau
NGT warns Himachal officers: Be present or we will issue non-bailable warrants
The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) principal bench—hearing the case of destruction of the environment in the ecologically delicate hill town of Kasauli in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh by hotel operators—was incensed on April 26 when the officials summoned to court failed to turn up. The senior officials—the Chief Secretary Himachal Pradesh and the Chairman Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board—were warned by the bench that if they fail to turn up on April 27, the bench will issue non-bailable warrants against them.
The case is not just of total disregard for the environment and laws by the hotel owners, it was assumed that key officials within the government were complicit in the matter and had turned a blind eye to violations of law.
In the last hearing, it was found from the report that Hotel Pine View had constructed a seven-storey building on the top of a hill between Gaganpur and Kasauli. It was also found that there was no specific consent from the authorities for such construction.
It was informed to the bench by the Society for Preservation of Kasauli and its Environs (SPOKE), who had filed the case against the hotel, that in the year 1997 the hotel owners got permission from the town and country planning department to set up a seven-room guest house. They also took consent from the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board on June 18, 2016.
Reviewing the case, however, the bench termed this “consent” as arbitrary, and said that the hotel needs to be shut down. The bench, comprising Justices Swatanter Kumar (Chairperson) and Raghuvendra S Rathore and experts Bikram Singh Sajwan and Dr Ajay A Deshpande, said that it was obvious that no inspection was done by the authorities before granting of such consent.
When neither of the two summoned presented himself to the court on April 26, one official, Member Secretary Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board said he was present on their behalf. The bench grilled the officer and commented that these officers have turned Himachal Pradesh into a “dustbin”.
“These officers don’t owe any duty or responsibility towards anyone or anything. All they know is commercial bargaining,” observed the bench. “But we will not spare anyone this time. Call your officer here tomorrow, otherwise we will issue a non-bailable warrant against them.”
The bench didn’t stop at that. It said: “If anyone on any ground seeks adjournment, we will be forced to pass a judgment demolishing this marvellous illegal hotel.”
Matter has been listed for April 27.
—By India Legal Bureau