On 13 June 2019, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered an FIR against the NGO Lawyers Collective as well as one of its founders, senior advocate Anand Grover, on the basis of alleged violations of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act 2010 (FCRA), and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 (PC Act).
The Quint has accessed a copy of the FIR, which has only come to light today. The FIR is based on a complaint by Anil Kumar Dhasmana, an Under Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which was filed on 15 May 2019, shortly after a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court making similar allegations against the NGO and its founders, senior advocate Indira Jaising, and Grover, who is her husband.
Dhasmana’s complaint arises out of an investigation conducted by the MHA from 19 to 23 January 2016 into alleged violations of the FCRA, which regulates access to and utilisation of foreign funding by NGOs and other organisations in India.
What Has Happened Till Now?
After coming to power in 2014, the Narendra Modi government launched a crackdown on NGOs with foreign funding. Investigations were launched into NGOs like Greenpeace which received foreign funding, and the licences of more than 13,000 NGOs cancelled by 2017-18, according to a report by consultancy firm Bain & Co.
Around the beginning of 2016, the MHA believed they had discovered prima facie violations of the FCRA by Lawyers Collective, a registered NGO which had an FCRA licence and had received, according to the complaint, Rs 32.39 crores in foreign contributions from 2006-07 to 2014-15.
They inspected the NGO’s books of accounts and records from 19 to 23 January 2016, and recorded observations which they believed disclosed offences under the FCRA. After finding Lawyers Collective’s responses unsatisfactory, the MHA issued a show cause notice to the NGO under the FCRA.
The subsequent replies by them were also considered unsatisfactory, as a result of which its FCRA licence was cancelled in November 2016, and subsequent applications for a licence have been denied. The NGO approached the Bombay High Court against these decisions, and their cases there are still pending.
No further action was taken by the MHA or any investigating authorities regarding this issue from 2016 till 15 May 2019, nine days after another organisation of lawyers called Lawyers Voice had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court making similar allegations.
What Does the Complaint Allege?
The complaint lists 14 observations made by the MHA inspectors, which they claim disclose suspected offences of “Criminal Conspiracy, Criminal Breach of Trust, Cheating, False statement made in declaration, violation of FCRA 2010 and Criminal Misconduct under PC Act, 1988”. It asks the CBI to investigate these matters further.
According to the complaint, these findings show that lawyers Collective, Anand Grover, and other office-bearers of the NGO used the foreign contributions received by the organisation for activities not mentioned in the objects of association filed with the government, engaged in political activities, and that funds were used for personal expenses unrelated to these objects.
The registered objectives of the NGO as listed in the complaint are listed in the image below.
Some of the observations by the MHA against Lawyers Collective and Grover are as follows:
- Large amounts of foreign contributions were allegedly spent on travel, boarding and lodging costs for Anand Grover and other employees/representatives for draft legislation meetings, dharnas and advocacy with MPs for laws such as a draft HIV/AIDS Bill. According to the MHA, this kind of activity was not listed as in the objects of association and spending foreign contributions on advocacy with MPs and media is against the spirit of the FCRA, as per the complaint.
- Foreign donors allegedly provided contributions to Lawyers Collective to assist Grover in his work as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on ‘Right to Health’. This was not listed as an objective of the NGO, according to the inspectors.
- Foreign contributions were allegedly received from a foreign donor agency for Anand Grover’s work fighting the Novartis case in the Supreme Court (Grover represented cancer patients fighting an attempt by the US drug company to patent an important drug in India). This was supposedly not in adherence with the NGO’s objects.
- Grover allegedly used foreign contributions to travel for conferences and a charity dinner related to work of the organisation. The inspectors believed this was not part of the objects of association, and unauthorised use of foreign funding outside India.
- Foreign contributions received by Lawyers Collective were used for a purpose “other than its objective – women empowerment.” The MHA also took exception to use of funds for the NGO’s work related to HIV/AIDS.
- Alleged non-disclosure of foreign contributions of Rs 29.33 lakhs, Rs 16.18 lakhs and Rs 7.54 lakhs from 2013-14 to 2015-16, from the same donor.
- Alleged discrepancy between returns filed with MHA and income tax authorities for financial years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12.
- Alleged receipt of remuneration by Indira Jaising from Lawyers Collective (out of its foreign contributions) during her time as Additional Solicitor General (from July 2009 to May 2014).
Who Are Anand Grover and Indira Jaising?
Anand Grover is known for his advocacy on social issues including the fight against Section 377 of the IPC (criminalisation of homosexuality) and HIV/AIDS awareness. He was UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health from August 2008 to July 2014. Grover was the Special Public Prosecutor for the 2G scam case, but asked to withdraw after the government also appointed now-Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to act alongside him.
Indira Jaising is a noted senior advocate known for representing victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, her work on women’s empowerment and was the first woman appointed as Additional Solicitor General of India. Recently, she took up issues such as the allegations against retired Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, and the allegations of sexual harassment against current CJI Ranjan Gogoi.
In a statement on 9 May, they had raised concerns over the issue of notice by the Supreme Court in the case filed by Lawyers Voice. The apex court asked them and Lawyers Collective to respond to the petition, and also asked the MHA for its view on the matter. Jaising and Grover have alleged that the
The case is tentatively scheduled to be heard on 1 July, though the court had observed in its order that the case would not prejudice any investigation by the authorities.
The Quint has reached out to them for comment, this story will be updated as and when they respond.
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