The CBI has registered a case against Lawyers Collective, an NGO run by senior lawyers Indira Jaisingh and Anand Grover, for alleged violations of Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). The case, which also mentions Grover as an accused, has been registered on a complaint from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which had in 2016 cancelled the FCRA license of the NGO for allegedly using foreign contributions for “political purposes”.
The NGO was in May this year issued Notice by the Supreme Court on alleged violations of FCRA based on a petition filed by another organisation called Lawyers Voice. Jaisingh and Grover had then alleged “victimisation” as Jaising took up “the issue of… allegations of sexual harassment against CJI Ranjan Gogoi by a former employee of the SC”. The SC had then said the pendency of the petition would have no bearing on any investigation carried out by any agency in the matter.
“It is obvious to us that this is victimisation on account of Ms Jaising taking up the issue of the procedure adopted in relation to the allegations of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India by a former employee of the Supreme Court which Ms Jaising has done so in her capacity as a concerned citizen, a senior member of the bar and a women’s rights advocate, without commenting on the merits of the allegations,” Jaising, Grover and Lawyers Collective had said in a press statement then.
The CBI registered the case on June 13 in Mumbai against Lawyers Collective, Grover, unknown office bearers of lawyers collective and unknown private persons and public servants.
In its order cancelling Lawyers Collective license on November 27, 2016, MHA had alleged that there were discrepancies in foreign contributions cited by the association in its returns filed with the MHA. The order also stated that Jaising, who was the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) of India under the previous UPA government, had violated Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) norms by receiving foreign funds when she was a government servant.
In June, the ministry had suspended Lawyers Collective’s (LC) FCRA account for six months and issued a notice asking why the NGO’s account should not be cancelled.
Jaising, who served as ASG between July 2009 and May 2014, has represented social activist Teesta Setalvad in an FCRA violation case against Setalvad’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 Gujarat Police.
Jaising’s husband Anand Grover, a senior Supreme Court lawyer and part of LC, was part of a lawyers’ team to petition the Supreme Court on behalf of 1993 Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memon hours before he was to be hanged. He was also Special Public Prosecutor for 2G cases but sought to relieve himself after ASG Tushar Mehta was appointed as another SPP by Modi government last year.
The CBI FIR has attached the findings of the FCRA investigation conducted by the MHA. The findings observed: “Large amounts of foreign contributions were found to have been spent on air travel, boarding and lodging and local travel of trusts Sh Anand Grover and various contractual employees from different parts of the country for draft legislation meetings, dharnas and advocacy with MPs. ” These meetings, according to MHA, were conducted in connection with draft legislation of the HIV/AIDS Bill.
” Spending foreign contribution on advocacy with media and MPs is in violation of the main spirit of FCRA, ” the MHA observed. Lawyers Collective, according to MHA, used Rs 13 lakh out of foreign contribution in advocacy with MPs or the media to organise rallies/dharnas, draft legislation meetings in 2009, 2011 and 2014.
The report said the NGO also organised a protest of 250 people at Rs 200/person outside Law Ministry in 2009 for the HIV Bill. “To hold paid Dharnas by utilisation of foreign contribution is a violation of FCRA,” MHA probe report said adding that lobbying with MPs for a legislation was an attempt to. interfere with the political process and Parliamentary institutions.
The MHA probe also held use of foreign contribution for travels of Grover after he was appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur for Health in 2008 as violation of FCRA. In Novartis Case, the MHA has observed, foreign travels of Grover and Jaisingh were funded by foreign contributions even though Jaisingh was not associated with the case. Travels of other employees were also similarly funded, MHA said.
It also mentioned a charity dinner organised by Lawyers Collecting in New York in 2013 which was attended by Grover. MHA said all these were violation of FCRA. MHA also alleged that the NGO received funds in the name of women’s empowerment. “This activity is not mentioned in the objective of the Association as filed with the Registrar and is a violation of Section 8 of FCRA,” the MHA said.
The NGO has already challenged MHA’s refusal to renew its license in the Bombay High Court where the matter is pending. It has denied all allegations of the MHA in the past.
In its statement following SC notice, the NGO said, “We wish to state that LC (Lawyers Collective) has no foreign funding since 2016, when its FCRA registration was suspended and subsequently cancelled by the Ministry of Home Affairs on false and illegal grounds. LC has taken up appropriate legal proceedings against the cancellation in accordance with law. In any event, we strongly dispute any allegation of mis-utilisation of any funds.”