New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission has sought the present status of the CBI investigation in its probe against Lawyers Collective, an NGO led by senior advocates Anand Grover and Indira Jaising.
While the NHRC, in its statement issued on Friday, said that since the issue concerned an alleged violation of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) and suspension of the organisation, the subject was outside the purview of the commission. But the NHRC seemed to address the issue because the decision by the CBI to file an FIR against the organisation was not based on any fresh evidence as suggested in the two complaints.
A complaint was filed with the commission, pointing out that the criminal charges against Lawyers Collective were based solely on a report of the Ministry of Home Affairs pertaining to the year January 2016. Maja Daruwala of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said that since there had been no change in circumstances or material on record since 2016 and that there was no material basis for filing an FIR.
The statement also claimed that given that the Commission is “empowered under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993” to ensure that the examination is “non-discriminatory and to avoid arbitrariness”.
The NHRC statement was in response to complaints filed by Maja Daruwala, senior advisor at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and Henri Tiphagne, who is associated with the Human Rights’ Defender’s Alert that suggested that the CBI probe may have been arbitrary and discriminatory as there was no fresh evidence against the NGO.
In the complaints to the NHRC, Daruwala alleged that Jaising and Grover were being victimised for their work done in their capacity as lawyers.
After the CBI filed an FIR against lawyer Anand Grover and his Mumbai-based Lawyers Collective, the organisation has since claimed that attempts were being made to “silence them [its office bearers] as they have taken up sensitive cases in the past”.
Previously, Lawyers Collective has alleged victimisation on account of Jaising taking up the issue of the procedure involved in connection with the allegation of sexual harassment against the CJI recently levelled by a former court employee.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on Friday too condemned the FIR filed against Lawyers Collective, calling at a “brazen abuse of the process of law” and an “undisguised attempt to intimidate and silence” the organisation.
The complete statement by the NHRC calling for the status of the investigation by the CBI into the criminal cases filed against Lawyers Collective has been reproduced below.
The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has “received a communication from Shri Henri Tiphagne, a human rights activist associated with Human Rights Defenders’ Alert, HRDA-India expressing grave concern over filing criminal cases by the CBI on June 13, 2019, against human rights organisation “Lawyers Collective, senior Advocate Anand Grover and its other unnamed functionaries. It is mentioned that the FIR has been filed by the CBI on June 13, 2019, under various sections of the IPC, Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA) and Prevention of Corruption Act (PC) 1988. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi has reportedly written to the CBI on 15.05.2019 for further investigation.
The complainant has stated that the Lawyers Collective is a group of lawyers with a mission to empower and change the status of marginalised groups through the effective use of law and engagement in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation. It is also mentioned that Shri Anand Grover was the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Health between August 2008 and July 2014 and Ms Indira Jaising was an Addl. Solicitor General of India between July 2009 and May 2014 and a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women between 2009-2012. It is also stated that registration of criminal cases by the CBI against this organisation is a step to intimidate and harass them for their human rights work.
The HRDA has requested the Commission to exercise the provisions laid down u/s 12 (b) of the PHR Act, 1993 and act on its long standing request of urgently reviewing FCRA.
The Commission has also received a similar complaint from Ms. Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, expressing concern on Ms. Jaisingh that she and her husband are being victimised for the work that they have done in Court of Law in their capacity as lawyers. She also stated that a pattern of intimidation is going on against anyone who challenges Government policies. To substantiate her concerns, Ms. Daruwala referred Ms. Jaisingh about the timing of allegations made against her and her husband. She also stated that Ms. Jaising and Mr. Grover are long standing, reputed lawyers and Human Rights Defenders of high integrity, reputed both at home and abroad.
The Commission has carefully examined the contents of both the communications. The Commission while considering earlier communications received from various human rights defenders, have made it clear that the matter related to alleged violation of norms of FCRA and suspension of the organisation by the Government of India due to alleged violation of norms is a subject which is outside purview of the Commission.
However, with regard to submission made by Shri Henri Tiphagne and Ms. Maja Daruwala that filing of criminal charges against their organisation is solely based on a report of the Ministry of Home Affairs pertaining to the year January, 2016 and there has been no change in circumstances or material on record since 2016 and hence, it has no material basis for invoking provisions of the IPC and other acts is definitely a subject matter of investigation by the investigating agency, but the Commission is also empowered under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 to examine the issue to make it non-discriminatory and to avoid arbitrariness.
Shri Henri Tiphagne has also stated that the MHA’s communication to the CBI and registration of the FIR has been after a petition was filed by an NGO, “Lawyers Voice” in the Supreme Court on May 8, 2019, where Supreme Court has issued the notice. Ms Maja Daruwala has also noted that Ms Jaisingh is known world over for her work on women’s rights, civil liberties and high standards of bar and bench in court proceedings.
Taking into consideration that Shri Anand Grover and Ms Indira Jaising have been actively raising the issues pertaining to alleged violation of human rights across the country and looking into their active role in the civil society, the Commission finds it appropriate to forward copies of the complaints lodged by Shri Henri Tiphagne and Ms Maja Daruwala to the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi calling for present status of the investigation in the matter within 4 weeks.