‘Arrest is imminent’: CBI raids on Harsh Mander, FIR filed

His think tank’s FCRA licence was suspended for violations that affect ‘sovereignty’ of India.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
Date:
Harsh Mander with the Centre for Equity Studies office in the background.

The Central Bureau of Investigation has filed an FIR against human rights activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander for alleged FCRA violations, Newslaundry learned today. 

The investigating agency conducted raids at Mander’s home in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj and at the office of his think tank, Centre for Equity Studies (CES), in Adchini. Two CBI teams, comprising six officials each, reached both locations around 8 am today. 

The raid at Mander’s house concluded at 12.30 pm but the CBI team is still at CES’s office.

“Harsh Mander’s arrest is imminent,” a source close to him told Newslaundry. They added that in cases related to FCRA violations, penalties are usually imposed. “But a CBI investigation is a rarity.”

CES’s non-FCRA bank account is with Punjab National Bank, which is why each CBI team today was accompanied by two PNB officials as “witnesses”.

At Mander’s home, the CBI searched his study room, library and cupboards, looking for “documents”. “They took away some unimportant documents. But they did not seize or check digital devices,” said the source quoted above, adding that the CBI team was “courteous”.

When Newslaundry asked Mander about the raids today, he said, “My answer is my work.” He refused to comment further. 

Another source said that after the ED raid on Mander in 2021, the government is now using the CBI to harass him. “So far, ED has not found anything against him,” the source said, adding that repeated harassment of Mander is more comical than the 1983 movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. The movie’s plot revolves around two photographers who are on a mission to expose corruption by government officials and the rich.

Ministry’s allegations against CES

Mander has been a trenchant critic of the Narendra Modi government and its policies. He regularly writes for The Indian Express, The Hindu, Scroll and The Wire, and has also written over a dozen books.

CES, co-founded by Mander in 2001, attempts to “influence public policy and law in favour of people of greatest disadvantage”. Mander is also its trustee and a member of its governing board.

CES’s FCRA licence was first suspended by the Ministry of Home Affairs in June last year for 180 days. The suspension continued for another 180 days in December. Among reasons cited for the suspension is that CES’s FCRA funds were allegedly diverted to Mander for writing columns in the media.

An MHA notice, dated December 11 last year, to the “chief functionary” at CES alleged that Mander had accepted Rs 12.64 lakh – Rs 12,64,671 to be precise – as “receipts or payments” from CES’s FCRA account from 2011-12 to 2017-18.

The notice said section 3 of the FCRA “prohibits acceptance of foreign contribution by correspondents, columnists, cartoonists, editor, owner, printer, publisher of a registered newspaper” because this could “prejudicially” affect the “sovereignty and integrity” of India.

The ministry also accused Mander and CES of paying co-authors of media columns from CES’s FCRA account. As an example, it cited this story in Scroll, published on August 6, 2018 and co-authored by Mander, Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri.

The notice alleged Johri and Bhardwaj were respectively paid “Rs 1,13,251 and Rs 25,64,550 from the FCRA account of the association”, violating sections 3 and 8 of the FCRA and the conditions of registration under section 12(4)(a)(vi).

The notice also alleged CES “acted as a conduit for the transfer of foreign contribution to non-FCRA associations”, purportedly flouting section 7 of the act. It cited this 2020 report – collaboratively published by CES, Delhi Research Group and Karwan-E-Mohabbat – as an example of such a violation.

Other cases

The second source told Newslaundry: “The government has set all agencies against him and organisations linked to him. The ED raided his house and office three years ago. Now the government has turned to the CBI.”

In 2021, the ED raided Mander’s house and office in connection with a “money laundering” case on the basis of an FIR filed by the Delhi police. The police had filed two cases, one under the Juvenile Justice Act and another for alleged financial irregularities. 

In 2020, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights conducted raids at two care homes for children, allegedly run by Mander, for “financial irregularities” and “sending” children to anti-CAA protest sites.

Additionally, in its chargesheet in the Delhi riots conspiracy case, the Delhi police alleged that Mander “provoked violence” with a speech at Jamia Millia Islamia. Jailed activist Umar Khalid is also one of the accused in the case. 

‘Agencies being blatantly used to target critics’

As news of the raids broke this morning, activists and lawyers condemned the action.

Columnist and Delhi University professor Apoorvanand condemned the “persecution” of Mander, whom he described as a “man who works for the most vulnerable and for minority rights”.

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Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy, who was recently elevated as a senior advocate, described Mander as a “beacon of peace and harmony and justice”.

Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, tweeted that the activist was being targeted because he was “critical of this government”. 

Mander responded to Bhushan’s tweet, saying: “We must continue to join hands to defend the idea of a country of love & freedom, whatever maybe the costs.”

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Also see
article imageNL Interview: Harsh Mander on dissent, the 'partition of hearts', and why India treats its poor badly
article imageLayoffs, pay cuts: Inside CPR’s ‘financial crisis’ after FCRA funds, tax exemption axed
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