Lawyers’ Collective, the non-governmental organisation that counts former additional solicitor general of India and noted human rights lawyer Indira Jaising among its founders, has been has been barred from receiving foreign funds for six months and its license has been suspended by the Union Home Ministry for alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
The Home Ministry had alleged that there were discrepancies in the foreign contributions cited by the organisation in its returns filed with the Home Ministry. It also claimed that Jaising had violated the FCRA Act by receiving foreign funds at a time when she was a government servant as Additional Solicitor General of India from July 2009 to May 2014. Further, the government alleged that the Lawyers’ Collective was involved in organising rallies and dharnas with “political hue and colour”, which was not permitted using foreign funds.
Jaising and the Lawyer’s Collective have previously been involved in a number of legal cases against the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership. This includes the case of IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who had alleged that Narendra Modi had a role in the 2002 Gujarat riots when he was chief minister of the state. Jaising also campaigned against the death penalty to Yakub Memon, arguing that the evidence for his role in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts was sketchy. More recently, she represented Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace activist who was debarred from flying out of India by the government in January 2015. Pillai was fighting for the rights of adivasis in Madhya Pradesh.
In an interview to Scroll.in, Indira Jaising denied the charges and accused the Union government of using the FCRA as a tool for curbing dissent.
You’ve spoken out today saying you’ve been “victimised”. Why do you think that?
Both Anand Grover [Jaising’s husband] and I have been mentioned by name in the show-cause notice, which incidentally has not been received by us but put up on the [home ministry's] website.
We have both in our capacity as practicing lawyers and not as office bearers of Lawyers' Collective represented people who have opposed the policies of the ruling party. I have represented Sanjiv Bhatt the police officer who alleged that he was at a meeting with the then chief minister of Gujarat on the February 27, 2002, and privy to the decisions. I have also represented Priya Pillai from Greenpeace in her attempt to fight against the off loading notice when she was boarding a flight to London and she won the case. The judge who gave the judgment, Justice Shakdher was also victimised by being transferred to Chennai from Delhi. On the day when Anand was due to appear in the case against Amit Shah, President of the BJP, in the High Court on November 22, a news report appeared in all the newspapers that action was being taken against us under FCRA.
It’s now clear that the FCRA has become a surrogate for curbing dissent.
Does the timing of the action link it to you speaking out in relation to the Sohrabuddin encounter case in which Amit Shah is an accused at journalist Rana Ayyub’s book launch?
On the timing, the ruling National Democratic Alliance is a master at timing, I have already said the first time we were targeted was when Anand was to appear in court to oppose the discharge of Amit Shah from charges of triple murder. I was at a panel discussion on May 29 at the book release of Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub at which I did say that the judgment permitting the discharge of Amit Shah will be challenged in the Supreme Court. The notice is dated May 31, 2016. The common factor seems to be Amit Shah.
The Union government accuses you of receiving foreign funds while you served as the additional solicitor general of India between July 2009 to May 2014. How do you refute that charge?
I did not receive funds but yes the Lawyers’ Collective was receiving on-going grants to work on domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. I have worked the Lawyers’ Collective before and after being an Additional Solicitor General on these issues. I did receive a remuneration form the Lawyers’ Collective during this period. I have written permission from the government permitting me to receive this money
I am not a government servant, no law officer of the government is a government servant. Ask Mr Mukul Rothagi the Attorney General, is he a government servant? If he is why did he represent the liquor lobby of Kerala in the Supreme Court probably for a fee more that I could have received in five years? He is not a government servant and nor am I.
What are your next steps? Will you fight this charge in court?
We intend to challenge the order in court, we will not allow this to go unchallenged. Remember, this is not about the law – this is about ruining the reputation of an organisation and individuals with a body of work.
As I said, this will not go without challenge: in the press, on social media, in the public domain – and in the courts
Last but not the least, we will continue working on the issues that we have worked on with or without foreign funding. This will not have the desired effect of intimidating us.
How will this affect the larger political environment? Will this have a chilling effect on people trying to oppose the Union government?
This is intended to have a chilling effect on the larger political environment but that will happen only if we get intimidated. We are not intimidated. We will continue to do what we do, with or without funding. The government is living in an illusion if it thinks the withdrawal of funds will prevent us form speaking up. You don’t need foreign funds to speak up. A life time of work shows that and it cannot be wiped away by one notice.