While condemning the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raids carried out at premises linked to retired IAS officer and activist Harsh Mander, activists and public intellectuals said the raids were a part of a “continuing chain of abuse of state institutions” to silence government critics.
On Thursday morning, ED officers conducted raids at the offices of the Centre of Equity Studies (CES) Delhi, headed by Harsh Mander. They also raided his private home in Vasant Kunj. The Income Tax (IT) department has simultaneously raided one of the children’s shelter homes run by an allied institution – Ummeed Aman Ghar in Mehrauli.
According to Hindustan Times, people familiar with the development said a probe against Mander under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has been taken up on the basis of a Delhi Police First Information Report (FIR) registered in February this year following an inspection by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
“We condemn these raids to harass and intimidate a leading human rights and peace activist who has done nothing but work for peace and harmony, consistently upholding the highest moral standards of honesty and probity. Over the past year, Harsh Mander and the CES have been subjected to continued harassment by multiple state agencies,” reads the joint statement signed by several activists including Aruna Roy, former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed, Economist Jean Dreze, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, DU Professor Apoorvanand, women’s activists Kavita Krishnan and Annie Raja.
“We stand with Harsh Mander and with each person associated with the Centre for Equity Studies. The Constitution of India and the law of the land shall prevail, exposing these intimidatory tactics exactly for what they are – an abuse of state institutions to try and curtail all our rights,” they said.
They said the “false and malicious allegations by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)” were “definitively countered by the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR), a statutory body, which has filed a strong affidavit in the Delhi High Court, putting an end to the false allegations against CES.”
ED officials were continuing the searches and are learnt to have seized documents related to the children’s homes.
In July, the NCPCR told the Delhi High Court that it recommended action against the two children’s homes linked to Mander after finding various violations and discrepancies on part of the management, reports Indian Express.
One of the violations mentioned by NCPCR in its reply to the court is that they were informed by the children that they had been taken to protest sites, including Jantar Mantar.
In October last year, the NCPCR had raided Mander’s children’s homes and, according to activist, allegedly sought to know whether the children had participated in the anti-CAA protests; regarding his association with them; about any foreign funding; and whether shelter was given to Rohingya refugee children at the two places.
The joint statement went on to say: “CES has also been subjected to harassment by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW), and the IT department. All these vindictive efforts combined, have shown neither diversion of money nor any violation of the law. The current raids by the ED and IT department are to be viewed in this context, as part of a continuing chain of abuse of state institutions to threaten, intimidate and try to silence every critic of the present government.”
Mander is currently in Berlin, Germany at the invitation of the Robert Bosch Academy to join them for the prestigious Richard Von Weizsacker Fellowship.
Mander formerly worked in the Indian Administrative Service, serving in the predominantly tribal states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for almost two decades. After Gujarat anti-Muslim genocide, Mander left the service in 2002, and started social activism
Mander who started the Karwan-e-Mohabbat campaign in solidarity with the victims of communal violence, is the Director of the Centre for Equity Studies, a research organisation based in New Delhi.
He also served as Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court of India in the Right to Food Campaign and was a member of the National Advisory Council of the Government of India, set up under the UPA government.