NEW DELHI — Lawyers Collective Tuesday termed as baseless a CBI FIR against the NGO and its founder Anand Grover, claiming that it was filed to silence them as the organisation was pursuing sensitive cases.
Lawyers Collective (LC) is run by Grover and his wife, lawyer Indira Jaising.
The CBI has booked Grover and his Mumbai-based voluntary organisation for alleged violation of rules in receiving foreign aid, officials said on Tuesday.
The agency has filed an FIR on the basis of a complaint from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which has alleged several discrepancies in the utilisation of foreign aid received by the NGO.
In a statement Grover, Jaising and the LC said that the FIR is solely based on proceedings under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in which orders for suspension and cancellation of LC’s registration to receive foreign funding were passed by the Home Ministry in 2016.
The order was challenged before the Bombay High Court and the matter was pending. There was no basis in the MHA’s allegations of violation of the FCRA, it said.
It said that there was no prohibition under the FCRA for Jaising to receive remuneration from LC for her work on women’s rights.
The organisation said remuneration was being paid to her before she became the ASG and continued during and after her tenure in that capacity, with the permission of the Law Ministry which was admitted by the MHA.
“This can hardly be the basis of alleged offences under the PC ACT,” it said.
It said official expenses reimbursed to Grover were permissible under the FCRA.
“All such submissions were simply ignored by the MHA. That is why an appeal was filed in the Bombay High Court which passed interim orders noting that the allegations made by the MHA were vague,” it said.
The LC said that for nearly two and half years, the CBI, functioning under the NDA regime, did not think it was fit to register criminal cases against the organisation or its office bearers, since there was no criminality involved.
“There has been no change in circumstances or material on record since 2016 and hence, the question arises what has changed between 2016 and 2019. There is no material to show that any of the provisions invoked under the under the IPC, PC Act have any basis,” it said.
The statement said that the FIR had no basis in fact and in law.
“It has been filed to target the organisation and its office bearers and to silence them for the cases and issues that they have taken up in the past and continue to take up since 2016. LC is seeking competent advise and will defend themselves in accordance with law in every forum,” it said.
The CBI has booked Grover, the president of Lawyers Collective, and unidentified office-bearers of the organisation, besides unidentified officials.
The allegation was strongly disputed by Lawyers Collective in a statement issued last month.
Although the CBI has not named Grover’s wife and former additional solicitor general (ASG) Indira Jaising as an accused in the FIR, the complaint filed by the ministry, which is now part of the FIR, mentions allegations against her.
The ministry has alleged that Jaising, as the ASG from 2009 to 2014, had received remunerations worth Rs 96.60 lakh from the foreign contributions received by Lawyers Collective. It has also stated that her foreign travels as ASG were funded by Lawyers Collective, using such contributions, without prior approval of the ministry.
The ministry has said the ASG is paid by the government from the Consolidated Fund of India and carries out very sensitive and high-level work, including, inter-alia, giving advice to the government in legal matters, appearing in the Supreme Court and high courts on its behalf and representing it in any reference made by the president to the apex court.
It has alleged that Jaising violated the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (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”.
According to the ministry’s complaint, Lawyers Collective had allegedly received foreign aid worth over Rs 32.39 crore between 2006-07 and 2014-15, wherein irregularities were committed that amounted to violation of the FCRA, 2010.
Based on available information and scrutiny of records of the NGO available with the MHA, prima facie violations of various provisions of the FCRA, 2010 were noticed, the ministry said.
It added that on-site inspection of books of accounts and records of the NGO was conducted from 19th to 23rd January, 2016.
The ministry has claimed that comments were sought from the NGO on the basis of the violations reported during the inspection, but the response was not found to be satisfactory, following which its FCRA registration was suspended and a show-cause notice issued.
Recently, a PIL was filed by Lawyers Voice, a voluntary organisation of advocates, in the Supreme Court, alleging that the funds collected by Lawyers Collective were misutilised for “activities against the nation”.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta had issued notice to Jaising, Grover and the MHA, asking them to file their responses on the allegations, including that the money received by Lawyers Collective was used to “influence political activities”.
Jaising, Grover and Lawyers Collective had issued a press statement, disputing “any allegation of misutilisation of any funds”.
The MHA has alleged that the funds received through foreign contributions were spent on media advocacy with 67 MPs in March and April, 2010 and with 99 MPs in August, 2010 for the drafting of the HIV/AIDS Bill by Lawyers Collective.
It has also claimed that the NGO had organised a free-trade agreement rally.
It held “paid dharnas” on the HIV/AIDS Bill outside the Law Ministry, which amounted to violation of the FCRA, the ministry has alleged.
“As per the FC (foreign contribution) return filed, there was no mention of the fact that FC was used for advocacy, including advocacy with MPs or media, to draft a legislation or to organise rallies and dharnas. Hence, by spending on these activities, the association has violated section 8 of FCRA, 2010,” it has alleged.
The ministry has claimed that the utilisation of foreign funds for advocacy, indulging in lobbying with MPs and thereby, influencing the political process and parliamentary institutions is in clear violation of the “letter and spirit” of the Act.
Section 3 of the FCRA prohibits acceptance of foreign contributions by any poll candidate, member of a legislature or a political party so that parliamentary institutions and political associations are not influenced in any manner, the ministry has said.
It has also raised question marks on the travelling expenses incurred by Grover as the UN Special Rapporteur for Health, alleging that he used such contributions for personal benefits and spent those outside India in violation of the law.
The funds received from a donor were allegedly used by Grover for defending the Novartis case, the ministry has said.
It has also alleged misuse of foreign funds in his air travels.
Foreign contributions worth Rs 2.94 crore were received by Lawyers Collective for women empowerment, while an amount of Rs 12.5 crore was received by the NGO for HIV-AIDS awareness programmes, which were not the purposes listed as its objective, the ministry has alleged.