The Home Ministry on Tuesday suspended for six months the FCRA registration of Lawyers Collective (LC), an association in which senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Indira Jaising is secretary and special prosecutor in the 2G spectrum case Anand Grover is president, for alleged violations of foreign funding norms.
While barring the association from receiving foreign funds, the MHA gave it 30 days to show cause why its FCRA registration should not be cancelled.
The Home Ministry had alleged that there were discrepancies in the foreign contributions cited by the association in its returns filed with the MHA, and that Jaising had violated FCRA norms by receiving foreign funds when she was a government servant.
It also said that the association had organised rallies or dharnas in 2009, as well as in 2011 and 2014, and that “organising such rallies/dharnas with political hue and colour” using foreign funds was not allowed under FCRA, 1976 that was in force in 2009.
Jaising, who served as ASG during the UPA regime, has represented activist Teesta Setalvad in an FCRA violation case against the latter’s Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace. She also represented former Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt in his applications to have a Supreme Court-monitored SIT probe into two FIRs filed against him by the Gujarat police. Grover was leading the legal battle for the Supreme Court to hear the plea of death row convict Yakub Memon hours before he was to be hanged in July.
According to the order issued by the Foreigners Division of the Home Ministry, “Based on the information received from various sources and the scrutiny of records of the association available with us, prima facie violations of various provisions of FCRA 2010 were noticed.”
“Whereas, the reply/comments of the association received on 30.3.2016 along with the records made available by them as also that available with us were examined in detail and it was found that the same was not satisfactory; that the same did not provide adequate explanation vis-a-vis the violations found and pointed out, and therefore, it has been decided to reject the same and proceed in accordance with law,” it added.
Jaising, while functioning as ASG from July 2009 to May 5, 2014, received renumeration of Rs 96.60 lakh, which is admitted by the association in its reply dated March 30, 2016 by stating that the remuneration of Rs 81.41 lakh was paid by the association, pursuant to the permission of the Central government for 59 months (July 2009-May 2014), the order said.
“It is really surprising how a senior law officer such as an ASG can simultaneously, and for such a long period, be on the rolls of a private entity, being paid (out of foreign contribution) for undisclosed purposes in gross violation of rules applicable to law officers of Union of India,” the Home Ministry said.
It also raised questions on “how the association itself has agreed for such an agreement (without obtaining appropriate clearances required under the provisions of FCRA, 2010 and other relevant authorities)”. This not only violates provisions of FCRA, but also raises several other pertinent questions, it added.
The MHA said that the ASG is a high-ranking public official appointed by the government, is paid remuneration from the Consolidated Fund of India, and performs very sensitive and important work such as advising the government on legal matters and appearing on its behalf in courts.
“Indira Jaising, despite holding such position, not only accepted Rs 96.60 lakh from the corpus of foreign contribution but also travelled abroad from the same fund for and on behalf of the association without any intimation to or approval under the provisions of FCRA, 2010,” the order said.
A statement issued by Lawyers Collective said it “condemns the blatant attempt of the government of India to victimise the organisation and its officer bearers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. This is nothing but a gross misuse of the FCRA Act which is being used to suppress any form of dissent.”
“It is far too well known that both Grover and Jaising have represented several persons in their professional capacity as lawyers in several cases against the government and the functionaries, including the president of the BJP Amit Shah, protesting his discharge in the Sohrabuddin murder case. The lawyers collective intends to challenge the order as unconstitutional and required to be set aside,” it added.
“The order/showcause notice is a mala fide act and an act of vindictiveness on the part of the government. This is being done because of the cases that Lawyers Collective and its trustees, Jaising and Grover, are involved in, including Sanjiv Bhatt, Yakub Memon and Priya Pillai. The aim is to destroy the credibility of LC by leaking it to the media, before even serving it on LC. LC till today has not received the order purportedly issued on 31st May, 2016, though it is available to the press,” it said.
On the allegation that Jaising received foreign funds while working as a government servant, the statement said, “The allegation against Jaising was based on the footing that she was a government servant, who was prohibited from receiving FC under the FCRA. However, she was a public servant and not a government servant, on whom there was no bar to receive FC. In any event, FC was received only by LC and Jaising was only paid remuneration for her services rendered to LC, on whom there is no prohibition. This aspect has not even been looked at by the authorities.”