The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against NGO Lawyers Collective and senior lawyer Anand Grover, on charges of violating rules under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.
The FIR has been registered based on a complaint by Ministry of Home Affairs against the NGO, whose founding members are senior lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, for alleged violation of Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.
The complaint mentions a rally, which was held for HIV/AIDS bill. It further states that the NGO "received foreign contribution amounting to Rs 32.39 crore", during the period 2006-07 to 2014-15.
The CBI states that Grover used foreign contribution for personal benefits, and spent it outside India which is a violation of FEMA.
The investigative agency said that senior lawyer, Indira Jaising had received Rs 96.6 lakh remuneration from foreign contributions made to the NGO during her term as Additional Solicitor General (2009-14). The complaint also alleged that the expenses of her foreign trips as ASG were borne by the NGO without the Home Ministry's prior approval.
In a statement, the Lawyers Collective (LC) has expressed "shock and outrage at the action of the CBI" in registering an FIR against them.
"The FIR is solely based on proceedings under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, (FCRA) in which orders for suspension and cancellation of LC's registration to receive foreign funding were passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 2016, which LC has challenged by way of appeal before the Bombay High Court. The Appeal is pending," the statement read.
The Lawyers Collective further pointed out that "there were no basis in the allegation."
"The LC has reason to believe that its officer bearers are personally being targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora more particularly in their capacity as Senior lawyers in court. The 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 party. It is also an attack in the right to free speech and expression and an attack on the legal profession as such," the statement said.
"For example, apart from the fact that Jaising remuneration was permissible under the FCRA, it was being paid by the LC was before she became the ASG and continued during and after her tenure in that capacity. Moreover, she has taken the permission of the Law Minister to continue to receive the remuneration under the Law Officers (Terms and Conditions) Rules, which has been admitted by the MHA," the statement said.
The allegation of the MHA was premised on the assumption that as the ASG Jaising was a government servant, which she was not. Thus this can hardly be the basis of alleged offences under the PC ACT. Similarly, expenses reimbursed to Anand Grover were permissible under the FCRA and regulations under it. 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 submissions made by the MHA were vague," it said.
"For nearly two and half years, the CBI, functioning under an NDA regime did not think it fit to register any criminal cases against the Lawyers Collective and/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 IPC, PC Act have any basis," the statement added.
The NGO states that its officer bearers are "personally being targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora more particularly in their capacity as senior lawyers in court."
"The 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 party. It is also an attack in the right to free speech and expression, and an attack on the legal profession as such," the statement said.
"The Lawyers Collective believes that the FIR has no basis in fact and law. It is to target the Lawyers Collective and its office bearers to silence them as they have taken up sensitive cases in the past, and continue to take them up," the statement added.