PILs by Foreign Funded NGOs: Whose Interest is it Anyway?

In the historic judgment in the Judges’ Transfer case, the seven judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that any member of the public even if not directly involved but having ‘sufficient interest’ can approach the High Court under article 226, or in case of breach of fundamental rights the Supreme Court, to redress grievances of persons who cannot move the court because of ‘poverty, helplessness, or disability or socially or economically disadvantaged position’. The Court can be approached even through a letter in such a case (SP Gupta v/s President of India, AIR 1982 SC 149). After this judgment, it has been open to public minded individual citizens or social organizations (NGOs) to seek judicial relief in the interest of the general public.

The development of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the country has very recently uncovered its own pitfalls and drawbacks. The genuine causes and cases of public interest have in fact receded to the background and irresponsible PIL activists all over the country have started to play a major but not a constructive role in the arena of litigation. They try to utilize this extraordinary remedy, available at a cheaper cost, as a substitute for ordinary ones.

Public Interest Litigation (PIL): A legal history

Public Interest Litigation popularly known as PIL can be broadly defined as litigation in the interest of that nebulous entity: the public in general. Prior to 1980s, only the aggrieved party could personally knock the doors of justice and seek remedy for his grievance and any other person who was not personally affected could not knock the doors of justice as a proxy for the victim or the aggrieved party. In other words, only the affected parties had the locus standi (standing required in law) to file a case and continue the litigation and the non affected persons had no locus standi to do so. And as a result, there was hardly any link between the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Bharat and the laws made by the legislature on the one hand and the vast majority of illiterate citizens on the other.

However, this entire scenario gradually changed when the post emergency Supreme Court tackled the problem of access to justice by people through radical changes and alterations made in the requirements of locus standi and of party aggrieved. The splendid efforts of Justice P N Bhagwati and Justice V R Krishna Iyer were instrumental in this juristic revolution of eighties to convert the apex court of Bharat into a Supreme Court for all citizens of Bharat. And as a result any citizen or any consumer group or social action group can approach the apex court of the country seeking legal remedies in all cases where the interests of general public or a section of public are at stake. Further, public interest cases could be filed without investment of heavy court fees as required in private civil litigation.

Whose interest is it anyway?

Among the criteria which Courts have set to admit PILs is to inquire whether the petition indeed serves any public interest. A number of PILs have been dismissed as the petitioner was seen pursuing his private interest under the garb of a public interest litigation. PILs have been filed by individuals, organizations as well as by NGOs. Typically, when NGOs file a PIL or when their PILs are heard or judgments delivered, newspapers mention the name of the NGO. In the recent past, several such PILs have been filed by NGOs in various Courts in Bharat. It also raises some obvious questions, such as

  • What is the brief of these NGOs?
  • How do they get the time and money for all these laborious legal procedures? Is it their part-time work or full-time? If the latter, how do they sustain themselves?
  • Why are they so much in love with Bharat’s public interest that they are fighting for *our* interest?
  • Given that common Bharatiya public have never clamoured for many of the causes which such NGOs litigate about, where do they get the idea on what to litigate on?
  • Are such public interest litigations really in the interest of the public of this Nation?

In this write-up, we shall examine several PILs filed by NGOs. Causes vary, courts vary, but one thing is common- they have all been filed by foreign funded NGOs, or FCRA-NGOs in our parlance. As our readers may know, FCRA is the Indian law which governs the flow of foreign funds to Bharatiya organizations (NGOs, Government Orgs, etc.).

One may wonder on the need for such a compilation. Won’t the newspapers covering PILs by NGOs also mention the foreign funding aspect? No, not one newspaper ever mentioned it; they just mention the name of that NGO. But wait, won’t Courts mention it in their verdict or observations or whatever? No, they not even once mention the foreign funding aspect of the litigant NGO.

One may wonder, what is the big deal even if they are foreign funded?

Allow me to elaborate on how a FCRA-NGO gets money from abroad. You see, every FCRA-NGO has to submit to their foreign donors (write a project proposal, say) on their prior activities in Bharat, their interests and capabilities, and have to describe what they plan to do if they receive a grant from the donor. The foreign donor then vets the proposal, finds the activities of the NGO to be consistent with his i.e., the foreign donor’s goals and decides to fund (or not) the Bharatiya NGO via FCRA. Thus, when such a FCRA-NGO files a PIL, it is, by definition, acting on behalf of its foreign donor. There are no two ways to interpret this, given the mechanism of how the funds reach these FCRA-NGO.

Thus, we cannot be oblivious to the source of funds of the FCRA-NGO. We cannot divorce its actions from the intentions and desires of the foreign donor.

There is one more loophole. The FCRA-NGOs may also be receiving local donations from within Bharat. May be it is using this INR money for the PIL. Won’t it be fine then? No, once an NGO receives foreign funds, its actions should be assumed to be congruent to the interests of the foreign donor. Thus, such NGOs must be suspected a priori.

In this light, we should demand that FCRA-NGOs should be barred from filing PILs. If barring them from filing PILs is not possible, a disclosure in each PIL that the petitioner is an agent of foreign donors is required; don’t get alarmed by the use of the word “agent”. Let us check out the situation of foreign funded NGOs in the country, the US, which sends the largest sum of FCRA contribution to our NGOs. Such NGOs receiving foreign funds in the US are declared, by law, as “Foreign Agents”. Such Foreign Agents in the US (i.e., US citizens/residents who run an NGO there) must declare the fact of them being foreign agents in all of their promotional material, whenever they meet any Government official etc.

It is important, at this juncture, to clarify that we are not asking to forbid all NGOs from filing PILs. If an NGO is funded only by funds raised within Bharat, of course it can be allowed to file PILs. We are not even asking to forbid even the FCRA-NGOs from filing any kind of litigation; they should of course possess the right to file any kind of petition, except PILs.

One may note that we have no public position on the legal matters of the PILs presented below, either for or against.

[A] Himachal Pradesh High Court ruling on “anti-conversion” law (2012):

Himachal Pradesh passed a Religious Freedom Bill in 2007. A section of it demanded that a person who failed to give due notice (to district authorities) before converting to another religion can be fined. This section was struck down by the HP HC. In all, Section 4 and Rules 3 and 5 of HP Freedom of Religion Rules, 2007, were struck down.

This ruling came due to a PIL filed by Evangelical Fellowship of India and ANHAD. Who are they?

  • Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), FCRA-NGO, (DL/231650058)
    • EFI gets funds from Open Doors Intl (USA), BILD Intl (USA), Stiftung-CSI (Zurich), Evangelism Explosion Intl (USA), Barnabas Fund (USA), Equip-India (USA), Evangelical Fellowship of Asia (Japan), Viva Network (UK), Partners Intl (USA) etc.
    • In the same building as EFI, two more FCRA-NGOs exist. These are: Ceefi Supply Centre Trust (DL/231650490), Emmanuel Hospital Association (DL/231650016), and Vachan Trust (DL/231661156)
    • The building also houses the Christian Legal Association.
    • The building also houses Aspire Prakashan Pvt. Ltd. which runs (or used to run) Forward Press. Remember that? No? Mahishasura Mardini? Yes? Same.
  • Act Now for Harmony And Democracy (ANHAD), FCRA-NGO (DL/231661032)
    • ANHAD gets funds from Christian Aid (UK), Action Aid (UK), American Jewish World Service (USA) and Oxfam (UK).
    • ANHAD also reports to have received funds from Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad. While CSJ is not a FCRA-NGO, at the same address as CSJ exists a FCRA-NGO called Institute for Development Education and Learning (IDEL) (GJ/41910191).
    • IDEL gets funds from Misereor (a missionary organization in Germany), Ford Foundation (USA), Action Aid (UK).

The striking down of parts of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Rules was covered not only in Bharat, but in USA as well. A few snippets:

  1. Christianity Today, 18/9/2012 Court in India’s Most Hindu State Partially Repeals Anti-Conversion Law
  2. UCAN India, 31/8/2012 Court upholds anti-conversion law, knocks out major clause
  3. Times of India, 31/8/2012 HC partially strikes down Himachal’s anti-conversion law

So, tell me. Who got the PIL filed? If I say that rabid evangelical organizations, and international partners of USA did it, can you contest that?

[B] Ban on Jallikattu, Kambala, Captive (Temple) Elephants:

Feb. 2016:

  • Karnataka High Court Notice on Kambala Notification PIL filed by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India (DL/231660443)
    • PETA-India is a non-profit company. At least two of its Directors appear not to be Indian citizens
    • Based on their 2012-13 Annual Report and FC6 return for the same year, it is estimated that foreign funds account for 65% of its annual income
    • PETA-India receives foreign funding via FCRA exclusively from PETA-Virginia.

May 2014

  • Supreme Court bans Jallikattu PIL filed by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) (TN/75900766) and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India (DL/231660443)
    • AWBI gets very little money from abroad
    • It has not filed FCRA return for 2013-14 and 2014-15 yet.

Jan. 2016

Aug. 2015

[C] Stray Dog Menace:

Oct. 2015

  • Writ in Kerala High Court by OM Joy with Jose Maveli of Janaseva Sisubhavan, Aluva. Licence to catch stray dogs was cancelled. Kerala HC issues urgent notice to Union Minister.

Nov. 2015

  • PIL filed by Janaseva Sisubhavan in Supreme Court. Seeks protection of children from stray dogs. SC issues notice to Union Government and others.
    • Aluva Janaseva (which runs Janaseva Sisubhavan) is a FCRA-NGO located in United Christian College, Aluva, Kerala with Registration KL/52850548.
    • Aluva Janaseva receives funding from individuals who appear to be of a specific religious persuasion settled in Canada, Netherlands and USA.

Mar. 2016

  • Special leave petition (SLP) filed by Animal Welfare Board of India (TN/75900766). Supreme Court directs all State Governments to sterilize and vaccinate all stray dogs.


Note how a person associated with Janaseva Sisubhavan filed the Oct. 2015 writ in Kerala HC, upon stray dog catching license cancellation. In the next month, the same FCRA-NGO files the PIL on stray dog menace in Kerala in Supreme Court, which is admitted, heard etc.

[D] Government enforcement of FCRA:

Nov. 2015

  • PIL filed by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) demanding that the enforcement of FCRA should be done by an independent body. Their argument: As certain political parties themselves may have received foreign funding, they (parties) cannot enforce the law properly, being part of Government.
    • ADR is a FCRA-NGO (GJ/41910350) in Ahmedabad.
    • Its donors include: Ford Foundation (USA), Omidyar Network (USA), Arpan Foundation (USA), HIVOS (Netherlands), Google.

[E] Board of Visitors to oversee Prisons:

Jan. 2016

  • PIL in Madras High Court filed by People’s Watch, “seeking appointment of skilled individuals as non official members of Board of Visitors headed by Collectors in every district and entrusted with the responsibility of keeping a check on living conditions in prisons”. The article says that Henri Tiphagne, head of People’s Watch stated in the affidavit, “Prisons have traditionally been and still remain closed institutions. The physical structure of prisons and the archaic rules of management of these punitive institutions endow them with a cover of obscurity in which human rights can be unofficially violated and officially denied.
    • People’s Watch is a unit of (i.e., a part of) Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC),  Madurai. CPSC is a FCRA-NGO (TN/75940138).
    • CPSC gets funds from Misereor (German Missionary organization), Ford Foundation (USA), HIVOS (Netherlands), Dan Church Aid (Denmark) etc.
    • Henri Tiphagne received Amnesty International’s eighth International Human Rights Award this year. He is the first Indian to receive it.
    • Note that the foreign funded NGO asks a pointed question. It seeks the appointment of ‘social workers’ in the Boards of Visitors of prisons so as to check on living conditions.

[F] Rules for Jogini/Devadasi Ban:

Dec. 2015

  • PIL was filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court by “Pratigya” which works on anti-human trafficking in regions of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana & Karnataka.
    • The Andhra Pradesh Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act was formulated in 1988, but the rules governing its implementation were never framed, due to which it could not be implemented. The PIL sought the framing of the rules which was granted by AP HC.
    • The Times of India news item does not mention the Petitioner’s identity, but a news release from Freedom Challenge (FC), Atlanta mentions it. There is no reportage of this story in Indian media except for the ToI story.
    • The same is also reported by Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), United Kingdom, which testifies its relation to “Pratigya”
    • Operation Mobilization (OM), an International Christian Missionary Organization and headquartered in Atlanta is the founding member of Freedom Challenge.
    • The OM/FC press release as well as the DFN web post are nearly verbatim reproductions of a Post in Facebook by an organization called Good Shepherd Church of India (GSCI). The Post mentions that Pratigya is an activity of Operation Mercy India Foundation (OMIF) in affiliation with GSCI.
    • The All India Christian Council (AICC)’s Facebook account shared this Post.
    • GSCI, OMIF and AICC are FCRA-NGOs. They are all co-located in a campus called Logos Bhavan in Ranga Reddy District, Telangana. Their FCRA registration numbers are: TS/10220141, TS/10220133 and TS/10220227. Four other FCRA-NGOs are also located in the same address.
    • GSCI and OMIF receive funds from Dalit Freedom network and Operation Mobilisation organizations across the world.
    • The celebration on the success of the PIL across the world (Atlanta, London etc.) is thus understandable.

[G] Missing Children, Alcoholism among Children:

Jan. 2015

  • PIL filed by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) (Save the Childhood Foundation (SCF)) in the Supreme Court on “missing children”

Dec. 2014

  • PIL filed by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Foundation) in the Supreme Court on the need to include ill-effects of alcohol and drugs in school curricula. SC issues notice to Central Government.
    • Save the Childhood Foundation (SCF) is a FCRA-NGO. Located in New Delhi, its registration is DL/231661122. It received very little money via FCRA.
    • At the same address as SCF is Association for Voluntary Action (AVA). As per BBA’s website, AVA is the entity to which donations pertaining to BBA should be made.
    • Association for Voluntary Action is a FCRA-NGO (DL/231650169). It receives sizeable funding from Stichting Global March Against Child Labour (Netherlands), Bread for the World (Netherlands), Wake Foundation (Taiwan), Stichting Wilde Ganzen (Netherlands) etc.

[H] Validity of the IPC section 377:

Feb. 2016

  • Curative petition filed by Naz Foundation seeking a relook at the earlier judgement of the Supreme Court.
    • Naz Foundation, New Delhi is a FCRA-NGO (DL/231650947)
    • It gets sizeable funds from American India Foundation (USA), Standard Chartered Bank (UK), Australian Sports Outreach Program (Aus), SCB Women Win (Netherlands) and several individuals abroad.

[I] Appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner and Vigilance Commissioner:

Aug. 2015

  • PIL filed challenging the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner and Vigilance Commissioner by Common Cause.
    • Common Cause is FCRA-NGO (DL/231650659). It has not received any foreign funds since 2006.

[J] Road widening to be consistent with statutory norms:

June 2015

  • PIL filed in Karnataka High Court by Environment Support Group (ESG) was dismissed, largely on the grounds that one of the petitioners had a private interest in the matter. Let us leave aside the grounds on which the PIL was dismissed. The PIL was filed to demand that road widening projects taken up by the State Government must be based on planning, norms and guidelines.
    • ESG is a FCRA-NGO (KA/94421056).
    • ESG’s funding is largely from Action Aid (UK)
    • ESG opposes the establishment of several facilities related to Indian Institute of Science (IISc), DRDO, BARC and ISRO in a place called Chellakere near Chitradurga in Karnataka, on the grounds that the allotted land is a natural grazing area for a special species of cattle therein.

[J] World Cultural Festival on the riverbed of Yamuna:

Mar. 2016

  • Petition filed in the National Green Tribunal by Swechha on “damages” caused to the environment due to the conduct of World Culture Festival around the Yamuna River, near Delhi, by The Art of Living Foundation
    • Swechha is a FCRA-NGO (DL/231660913).
    • Its donors include: British High Commission (Delhi), US Embassy (Delhi), HIVOS (Netherlands), Voluntary Service Overseas (UK) etc.

[K] Field Trials of Genetically Modified Crops:

Apr 2014

  • PIL filed in Supreme Court seeking ban on recklessly allowing field trials of Genetically Modified Crops in India, by `Gene Campaign’
    • Gene Campaign is FCRA-NGO (DL/231650825).
    • It gets funds from Action Aid (UK), Heinrich Boll Foundation (Germany), Oxfam (UK).
    • In 2006, it received funds from Ford Foundation (USA) and International Development Research Centre (Canada)

[L] Human Rights etc:

  • Several PILs have been filed by bodies associated with Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) in various Courts. These are compiled here.
    • HRLN is a collective and its FCRA office is registered as Socio-Legal Information Centre, (SLIC) Tardeo, Mumbai.
    • SLIC is an FCRA-NGO (MH/83780554).
    • It receives funds from US Embassy (Delhi), Karuna Trust (UK), Dan Church Aid (Denmark), MacArthur Foundation (USA), Action Aid (UK), Bread for the World (Germany), Misereor (Germany), Christian Aid (UK), European Union (Belgium) and the Royal Netherlands Embassy (Delhi).

[M] Right to Education:

Apr. 2014

  • PIL filed in the Supreme Court by National Coalition for Education (NCE) alleging that schools across the Nation were violating the RTE Act. The Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of Bharat directed the Central and State Governments to respond.
    • NCE is located at the same address as All India Primary Teachers’ Federation (AIPTF) which is a FCRA-NGO (DL/231660011). Reni Jacob, Advocacy Director of World Vision India is a Trustee of NCE.
    • AIPTF receives funds from Global Campaign for Education (South Africa), Education International Brussels (Belgium), Canadian Teachers Federation (Canada) etc.
    • Apart from NCE/AIPTF, a huge number of foreign funded NGOs carry out advocacy tasks in the implementation of RTE Act. For details, refer to this article.

In the above, the FCRA-NGOs are identified by their name and also by their FCRA registration number. The latter is usually coded as “XY/123456789”, where “XY” is a two-letter code for the State in which the NGO is registered (KA=Karnataka, HR=Haryana etc.) and the 9-digit (sometimes 8-digit) number is the registration number.

The funding details of each FCRA-NGO can be checked by anyone at fcraonline.nic.in; for its sources on PILs, this write-up has relied on newspaper articles as well as many articles from livelaw.in; They have all been hyperlinked within each description. We acknowledge these sources.

I also acknowledge the FCRA Wing, Ministry of Home Affairs for making available the FC6/FC4 returns in public domain, without having to go through via the idiotic RTI route. Two twitter well wishers are also thanked for their support and suggestions.


The above article is an edited version of the article originally published as a blog post which can be accessed through this url: http://fcraanalyses.blogspot.in/2016/03/public-interest-litigation-filed-by.html?m=1 We express our sincere thanks to the author, who can be contacted as @sighbaboo on Twitter, for kindly granting us his consent to let us publish his work on HinduPost.

This article represents the opinions of the Author, and the Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content. HinduPost is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information, contained herein.