The Central Bureau of Investigation has filed a case against senior advocate Anand Grover and his non-governmental organisation Lawyers Collective for allegedly violating rules under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, PTI reported. Grover is a trustee and director of the NGO. Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaising, who is married to Grover, is a trustee and secretary.
The first information report named Grover and unidentified office-bearers and functionaries of the organisation. Some private persons and public servants were also named as accused under Indian Penal Code provisions on forgery, cheating and criminal conspiracy, PTI reported.
The FIR was filed on the basis of a complaint by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which had alleged discrepancies in the utilisation of foreign aid received by Lawyers Collective.
The Lawyers Collective expressed “shock and outrage” at the action and said that the case was solely based on proceedings by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2016, which the organisation had already challenged before the Bombay High Court. That appeal is pending and the court had noted in its interim orders that the ministry’s allegations were vague, the organisation said.
The organisation said the FIR has “no basis in fact and in law” and has been filed to target and silence its office bearers for the cases they have taken up in the past.
Home Ministry’s complaint
The ministry’s complaint made allegations against Jaising, though she was not named as an accused. Jaising has been accused of receiving remunerations worth Rs 96.6 lakh from foreign contributions made to the organisation during her tenure as the additional solicitor general from 2009 to 2014. The complaint also said that her foreign travels as additional solicitor general were funded by the organisation without the ministry’s approval.
The ministry alleged that Jaising had violated the FCRA by “not seeking clearances from the government for receiving foreign contributions in the form of remuneration from the organisation and accepting foreign hospitality while visiting a foreign country”, PTI reported.
Lawyers Collective was accused of irregularities in receiving foreign aid worth over Rs 32.39 crore between 2006-’07 and 2014-’15. The ministry claimed that the NGO’s response to the allegations was not found to be satisfactory, after which its FCRA registration was suspended in 2016.
The ministry also alleged that foreign contributions were used for lobbying with MPs on the HIV/AIDS bill and to organise “paid dharnas” in violation of the law.
Section 3 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act prohibits the use of foreign contributions in a way to influence any parliamentary institutions.
In May, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to Lawyers Collective and the two senior lawyers for the alleged violation of rules after another organisation, Lawyers Voice, filed a petition seeking their criminal prosecution.
Jaising and Grover had then alleged that they were being victimised and penalised for speaking up against the procedure followed by the Supreme Court’s in-house committee that cleared Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment charges.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had cancelled the registration of Lawyers Collective under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act in November 2016, stopping the organisation from accepting funding from abroad. Six months earlier, the NGO’s foreign funding licence had been suspended. The ministry had said there were discrepancies in the foreign funding section of the returns filed by the collective, and accused Jaising of violating the FCRA by receiving foreign funding while serving as the additional solicitor general under the United Progressive Alliance government.
Lawyers Collective responds
The organisation said the allegations had no basis and attributed the proceedings to “sensitive cases” taken up by its functionaries against prominent figures of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The organisation said the remuneration was being paid to Jaising before she became the additional solicitor general and continued during and after the tenure with the permission of the Law Ministry. Expenses reimbursed to Grover were also permissible under the FCRA, the statement said.
Lawyers Voice, which filed a plea last month, comprises lawyers affiliated to the BJP, including the head of the party’s legal cell in Delhi, Jaising’s organisation claimed.
“LC [Lawyers Collective] has reason to believe that its officer bearers are being personally targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora, particularly in their capacity as Senior Lawyers in Court,” the statement said. “LC sees this as a blatant attack of the right to representation of all persons, particularly the marginalised and those who dissent in their views from the ruling establishment. It is also an attack in the right to free speech and expression and an attack on the legal profession as such. The right to legal representation is a guaranteed fundamental right under the Constitution of Indian and is part of the jurisprudence of every civilised country of the world.”