Law

FCRA License Cancellation Continuation of Harassment by Centre, Says Lawyers Collective

The advocacy group has released a statement saying it is exploring all possible legal options to challenge the government’s order.

Credit: PTI

Indira Jaising, a trustee of the organisation. Credit: PTI

Advocacy group Lawyers Collective (LC) has criticised the home ministry’s decision to revoke the organisation’s ability to receive foreign contributions, it released a statement detailing its response to the government’s move, saying the cancellation of its registration under the 2010 Foreign Contribution (Regulation) (FCRA) Act is “only a continuation of the harassment and persecution of the organisation, especially of its two trustees, Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, senior advocates, perpetrated by the (Narendra Modi) Government, over [the] last one year.”

The organisation said the order, dated November 27, a Sunday, was delivered at its registered office address in Mumbai two days later. “The cancellation order is on the grounds that LC allegedly has violated the terms and conditions of its registration as [specified in the] certificate, violated the provisions of the FCRA, and most importantly, acted against ‘public interest’.”

Questioning how the order was passed on a Sunday, when government offices are typically closed, the organisation said the order only repeated what has already been alleged in the show cause cum suspension order which was issued on May 31 and that the document disregarded LC’s replies “in fact and in law”.

An attempt to malign

“At the same time, certain new allegations have surfaced such as [the] ‘diversion’ of foreign contribution and [the] utilisation for ‘personal gain’, which are not borne out by the facts or the records, are absolutely false and defamatory,” the organisation charged.

Stating that it was preposterous for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to suggest that the LC has no record of work, the latter pointed out that this claim is contradicted by the fact that “the government of India itself has acknowledged LC’s contributions towards advancing women’s rights, securing access to affordable medicines, protecting the rights of HIV-positive people as well as transgender persons and continues to call upon LC for its legal inputs.”

The organisation also reiterated that the current proceedings under FCRA, including the latest cancellation order, were only a continuation of the harassment and persecution of the organisation and its trustees. It also spelt out the reasons,  “Both Ms. Jaising and Mr. Grover have been and are continuing to take up sensitive cases, in their professional capacity, against the powerful functionaries of the present ruling establishment, including Amit Shah, Sohrabuddin, Yakub Memon and Sanjiv Bhat.”

‘Gross abuse of power by government’

In this light, the Lawyers Collective said, it perceives this cancellation “to be a clear attack on the right to legal representation of persons who need legal services the most and a gross abuse of powers by the government of the day. It is also a clear attack on the right to free speech and association guaranteed by the constitution of India.”

The advocacy group claimed that the proceedings against it were “nothing but an attempt to discredit the long-standing credibility of the organisation and that of its trustees, and a part of the larger clampdown on civil society spaces in India.”

Noting that it was preposterous to allege that LC has acted against public interest as it has always strived to advance it through its pioneering work, the organisation said it was “exploring all legal options to challenge the cancellation order, including its defamatory contents, and will take necessary action in an appropriate time.”

Deliberate leaks to the media irked the LC

Jaising had earlier told The Wire, that “the first time a show cause notice was sent to the press was on the day when Anand Grover was to appear in the Bombay high court against the discharge of Amit Shah from the Sohrabuddin case, and that was on November 22, 2015.”

Thereafter the LC had protested saying it had not been given an opportunity to explain. At this, the notice was promptly withdrawn and they were granted a hearing. But the selective leaks continued; in March this year, Jaising hit out at the Modi government for running a sinister campaign against Lawyers Collective by selectively leaking confidential information pertaining to an enquiry into its funding and functioning, launched under the FCRA and by the home ministry’s decision.

Subsequently, when on May 31, the MHA issued a notice of suspension of registration to Lawyers Collective, the advocacy group termed it “an act of vindictiveness”. Jaising had then wondered how transparently the government was victimisating its detractors, because it was on May 29, two days prior to the MHA’s notice, that she had questioned the “illegal discharge” of Shah in relation to the Sohrabuddin murder case, while speaking at an event to launch Rana Ayyub’s book on Gujarat.

Civil rights groups, UN special rapporteurs supported advocacy group

Several civil rights groups also slammed the MHA’s decision, terming it an attempt to persecute the LC “in order to obstruct the legal and human rights work being carried out by them”.

In a statement in favour of the group, three UN special rapporteurs had also asked the Centre to reverse the suspension of registration. They had urged the government to repeal the FCRA saying the act was increasingly being used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding and failed to comply with international human rights norms and standards. But as the Centre’s latest action suggests, all these appeals failed to achieve the desired effect.