The government on Wednesday barred former additional solicitor general (ASG) Indira Jaising's NGO Lawyers Collective from receiving foreign funds for 180 days with immediate effect and asked why its licence under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 2010, should not be cancelled over misuse and diversion of foreign contributions, including for payment of Rs 96.60 lakh as remuneration to Jaising while she was ASG.
Lawyers Collective was quick to condemn the action as "malafide" and "vindictive", alleging it was a fallout of the cases that the NGO and its trustees were involved in, including those relating to dismissed Gujarat cadre IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon and Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai.
It also recalled how both Jaising and her lawyer husband Anand Grover had represented persons in cases against the government/BJP functionaries including Amit Shah. "This is nothing but gross misuse of FCRA which is being used to suppress dissent," the NGO said, claiming that all its foreign contributions were spent for the purposes received and accounted for. Lawyers Collective added it would challenge the suspension order in court.
The home ministry order, listing a series of FCRA violations against Lawyers Collective, said "in exercise of powers conferred by Section 14 of the FCRA, 2010, the central government hereby directs Lawyers Collective... to show cause within 30 days of receipt of this notice as to why its FCRA registration should not be cancelled". It further said the NGO's FCRA licence was being suspended for a period of 180 days.
The action against Jaising's venture follows months after she, along with Grover, moved a last-minute petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the rejection of Yakub Memon's clemency plea. The apex court, in an order pronounced just before Memon was due to hang, rejected the plea. He was executed soon after.
Over the past year, similar action has been undertaken against NGOs associated with activist and Jaising's client Teesta Setalvad. While the licence of Setalvad's NGO Sabrang Trust has been suspended and is due to be cancelled any time, her other NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, has been put on prior permission, requiring each foreign contribution to it to be approved by the home ministry. A CBI enquiry is also underway against Setalvad's firm Sabrang Communications.
As per the home ministry order, the most serious violation by Lawyers Collective is the payment of Rs 96.60 lakh as remuneration to Jaising between July 2009 and May 2014, when she was ASG. "It is really surprising how a senior law officer such as the ASG can simultaneously and for such a long period be on the rolls of a private entity, being paid for undisclosed purposes by the entity in gross violation of rules applicable to law officers of the Union of India, and how the association agreed for such an arrangement and she herself would have agreed for such an arrangement," the order said.
The order also faulted Lawyers Collective for bearing expenses on Jaising's travel to Nepal and the US, without intimation or approval as required under FCRA. The home ministry order said Grover travelled for his work as UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Health between 2008 and 2014, and the expenses on the same were borne out of foreign donations made to the NGO. Grover, it said, not only drew foreign funding received by the association for his UNSR activities, but also used it for personal benefit and spent it outside India, in violation of FCRA norms.
Other violations listed in the order include unauthorised transfer of funds from one utilisation account to another, transfer of foreign funding to Hungary and Malaysia though FCRA requires associations to work within India, and organising of dharnas/rallies of political hue by Lawyers Collective in 2011 and 2014 in violation of FCRA norms.