Govt barred from coercing NGOs for re-registration

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday restrained the Punjab government from taking coercive measures against civil society and non-government organisations (NGOs) for their re-registration under the Punjab Charities Act 2018.

Lahore High Court Building

Justice Shahid Karim passed the order on a joint petition filed by over a dozen civil society organisations and the NGOs, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Aurat Foundation, South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP), AGHS Legal Aid and the Women Rights Association.

Representing the petitioners, Advocate Hina Jillani stated before the court that the Punjab Assembly on Feb 28, 2018 had enacted the Punjab Charities Act, 2018.

She said the government or the lawmakers never consulted the civil society sector and organisations that could be affected by the impugned law.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

She pointed out Section 12 of the law made it mandatory for all the charities to get registered with the “Charities Commission” established under the Act. She said the provincial home department published an advertisement in newspapers on different dates during July 2020 giving the Aug 15 deadline for online registration with the commission.

Later, Ms Jillani added, the department circulated instructions to district administrations to enforce the registration process after which some NGOs had received letters for it from the social welfare department. She argued the registration of “charities” had been arbitrarily determined and the requirement of notification under Section 12 of the impugned Act had not been fulfilled.

Therefore, Ms Jillani added, the registration was not legally initiated and the time limit of Aug 15 was without lawful authority and of no legal effect.

She said imposing a deadline during the health emergency because of Covid-19, when most offices of the NGOs were closed or partially working, was not justified.

As an immediate relief, the counsel asked the court to restrain the respondents from enforcing the deadline for re-registration process and also suspend the operation of the impugned Act, which she termed a draconian law.

After hearing the arguments, Justice Karim restrained the government from taking coercive measures against the petitioners/organisations and sought replies from the respondents by the next date of hearing to be fixed by the office.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2020

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