Suspension of NGO's FCRA Registration is Clampdown on Dissent, says Indira Jaising

Giving a point-by-point rebuttal to the charges levelled against it, the Lawyers Collective said all foreign contribution received by it “were spent for the purposes received and accounted for”.

New Delhi: With the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) releasing a notice of suspension of registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) for the Lawyers Collective (LC), the non-government organisation founded by noted lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, even before the notice had been served, the latter has hit back terming the crackdown “an act of vindictiveness”.

In a statement, the advocacy group, which has in the past defended the cases of Priya Pillai (Green Peace India), Teesta Setalvad and Yakub Memon, charged that the latest move of the Narendra Modi government was a “blatant attempt of the Government of India to victimise the organisation and its office bearers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. This is nothing but a gross misuse of the FCRA Act which is being used to suppress any form of dissent”.

Jaising even wondered how transparent the victimisation has become because it was on May 29, two days prior to the MHA’s notice, that she had questioned the “illegal discharge” of Amit Shah from the Sohrabuddin murder case while speaking at a discussion during the release of Rana Ayyub’s book on Gujarat.

She also questioned why the MHA was repeatedly leaking to the media notices against the LC even before these were served.

“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,” she pointed out.

She recalled, the LC had protested then, saying it had not been given an opportunity to explain. At this, the notice was promptly withdrawn and they were given a hearing. This time again, she claimed, “the second notice has not been served on us but put on the website”.

On the basis of this notice, several sections of the media reported that the MHA had suspended for six months the LC’s FCRA registration and may also cancel the registration. Moreover, the order also questioned Jaising’s conduct while she was additional solicitor general from 2009 to 2014, stating that: “Ms Indira Jaising, despite holding such position not only accepted 96 lakh from the corpus of foreign contribution but also travelled abroad… without any intimation to or approval under the provisions of FCRA 2010”.

The MHA also claimed that the NGO had used foreign funds for organising protests and rallies “with political hue and colour”.

Countering these charges, the LC has issued a detailed rejoinder stating that it intends to challenge the order as being unconstitutional that should be set aside. “The order/show cause notice is a malafide act and an act of vindictiveness on the part of the Government,” the LC said.

It charged that the aim was to destroy the credibility of the LC by leaking the order to the media even before it had been served. “[The] LC till today (June 1, 2016) has not received the order purportedly issued on 31st May, 2016, though it is available to the press,” it said.

Giving a point-by-point rebuttal to the charges levelled against it, the LC said all the foreign contribution (FC) received by it “were spent for the purposes received and accounted for”.

It also said the “allegation against Ms. Jaising was based on the footing that she was a government servant, who was prohibited from receiving FC under the FCRA. However, she was a public servant and not a government servant, on whom there was no bar to receive FC. In any event, FC was received only by LC and Ms. Jaising was only paid remuneration for her services rendered to LC, on whom there is no prohibition. This aspect has not even been looked at by the authorities”.

“So far as Mr. Anand Grover is concerned, it was the mandate of LC to work on the issue of Fundamental Rights, including the right to health. The work of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Right to Health was part of LC’s work. No money was received by Anand Grover as foreign contribution. He was only reimbursed expenses incurred by him, while abroad, for doing LC’s work, including telephone and internet expenses,” the LC said.

As for the allegation of supporting political rallies or dharnas, the LC said, “No money was spent on rallies or dharnas having any political hue or colour. FCRA, 2010 was not applicable for expenses incurred in 2009, while in 2011 and 2014, it was spent from domestic/United Nations funding, which is exempt from FCRA”.

In March this year, Jaising had raised objections to the selective leaking of information by the MHA to malign her organisation. She had then also discussed how the Modi government was running a sinister campaign against the LC by selectively leaking confidential information pertaining to an enquiry initiated by the FCRA wing under the MHA, this despite her having raised the issue with both Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Jaising was clear then, as she is now, that “attempts to hound and malign LC is part of the larger clampdown on civil society voices that seek to preserve and protect shrinking democratic spaces in India and zealously guard civil liberties including the right to dissent”.

Jaising said she is contemplating lodging complaints with the Press Council of India and the Broadcasting Authority of India in the matter since she feels that the media should not carry “leaks” from the ministry but should insist that information is shared with it through a government press release, especially when there is a law preventing the government form sharing confidential information that is to be used only for the purpose of the act.