New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay the Bombay high court’s order granting interim protection to lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising in a plea filed by the CBI. The investigative agency has registered a criminal case against their NGO Lawyers Collective for alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
According to reports, the apex court also sought a response from Lawyers Collective, Grover and Jaising. A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari issued notices to the senior lawyers and the NGO. Justice Bose recused himself from hearing the matter further, LiveLaw reported.
The CBI had registered a case against Grover and the NGO over alleged violation of the FCRA in the use of foreign funds received by Lawyers Collective. Hearing a petition filed by the NGO’s founders, Grover and Jaising, the Bombay high court on July 25 granted interim protection. It said no coercive steps must be taken against the NGO until further orders.
Filing a challenge in the Supreme Court, the probe agency contended that the high court had neither rendered any finding as to how the FIR registered against the accused parties was “unsustainable and bad in law” nor referred to any finding as to how the continuance of the investigation against the accused would be contrary to law.
The CBI registered the FIR following a complaint by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in May alleging a violation of FCRA provisions. While the FIR did not name Jaising as an accused, the MHA complaint, which is part of the FIR, mentioned her name and made specific allegations against her.
The CBI alleged that the NGO received foreign funds between 2009 and 2015, but failed to disclose a major part of it. It said that Grover and Jaising used foreign funds for “personal benefits”.
According to the MHA complaint, the CBI said during her tenure as additional solicitor general, Jaising continued to draw remuneration from the NGO and that this came from foreign contributions.
In the Bombay high court, the petitioners also pointed out that the MHA complaint was based on an inspection report from 2016 that had pointed out a single violation of non-disclosure under the FCRA. At the time, following the inspection report, the MHA had issued an order cancelling the registration of Lawyers Collective for receiving foreign funds.
This cancellation order was challenged in the high court by the NGO in 2017, and is currently pending before a single judge, the petitioners said.
While granting interim relief, the division bench took note of the petitioners’ submission that the CBI’s act of filing an FIR on the basis of a two-and-a-half-year-old report, when the matter had reached the court, was questionable.
Civil society members have described the case against Grover and Jaising as “a brute show of intimidation as well as gross abuse of power”, calling it the “the latest in a long line of coercion and intimidation” against the two senior lawyers. Lawyers from different parts of the country also criticised the action as an ‘assault on the independence of lawyers’.