The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday, 11 July, raided the Mumbai and Delhi homes of senior SC advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, over alleged violations of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act 2010 (FCRA), and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 (PC Act).
The raids concluded late on Thursday evening with the agency searching a total of five places – one residence and two office premises in Mumbai and one residence and one office premise of Anand Grover in Delhi.
Earlier during the day, Jaising gave a statement to the media, saying she and her husband Grover are being targeted for their “human rights work over the years.”
‘A Brute Show of Intimidation & Gross Abuse of Power’
Accusing the government of "gross abuse of power" , a group of Opposition MPs in Rajya Sabha on Thursday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "halt such acts of coercion and intimidation".
"This, latest in a long line of coercion and intimidation of Ms Jaising and Mr Grover, is nothing short of a brute show of intimidation as well as gross abuse of power," the letter signed by Congress, TMC, SP, CPI and CPI(M) MPs said.
It further said that the duo, well known for their "pioneering work" in the field of human rights, had fully cooperated with authorities.
"Despite the show of cooperation, the raids that have taken place today are shocking. We strongly urge the government and authorities to halt such act of coercion and intimidation," it said.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also condemned the raids, alleging vendetta politics.
I strongly condemn CBI raids on well known senior advocates @IJaising and Mr Anand Grover. Let the law take its own course but subjecting veterans who have all through their lives fought for upholding the rule of law & Constitutional values is clear vendetta— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) July 11, 2019
The raids are pursuant to an FIR registered by the CBI against the NGO Lawyers Collective as well as one of its founders, senior advocate Grover, on 13 June.
The Quint had accessed a copy of the FIR on 18 June after it became available. The FIR is based on a complaint by Anil Kumar Dhasmana, an Under Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
The complaint 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.
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 Are the Allegations in the FIR/Complaint?
The complaint lists 14 observations made by 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, 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.
Is There Any Substance to the Allegations?
After they became aware of the FIR, Lawyers Collective and its trustees released a statement in which they said that they believed:
"“Its officer bearers are being personally targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the Judiciary in all fora, particularly in their capacity as senior lawyers in court.”"
Condemning the FIR as an attack on the right to representation of persons and the right to free speech and expression, as well as an attack on the legal profession, Lawyers Collective claimed that the FIR had “no basis in fact and in law.”
A review of the 14 observations by the MHA inspectors, that form the basis of the FIR, reveals that at least some of these allegations are extremely dubious.
The inspectors note that the objectives of NGO Lawyers Collective, as registered with the government, include spreading awareness of legal rights of citizens (including publishing material on this), legal education programmes and organising seminars, discussions, programmes on legal issues of public importance, protecting democratic rights of citizens.
Despite this, they have objected to the organisation spending money on legislation meetings, dharnas and advocacy with MPs for laws such as a draft HIV/AIDS Bill – even though this would clearly seem to fall within the objectives of the organisation.
The MHA has objected to funds being received by the organisation for the purpose of assisting Grover in his work as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on ‘Right to Health’, and his work representing cancer patients in the Novartis case – again despite this work appearing to fall within the scope of Lawyers Collective’s objects and reasons.
The MHA inspectors even took exception to Lawyers Collective’s work for “women’s empowerment”, even though this would expressly fall within the registered objectives of the organisation.
International Legal Associations Condemn Raids
In a statement released on 11 July, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) condemned the raids, which they noted had been conducted despite the National Human Rights Commission asking the CBI for a status report by 21 July, to ensure the investigation is not discriminatory or arbitrary.
Sam Zarifi, Secretary-General of the ICJ said in the statement:
"“This raid seems designed to harass and intimidate two tireless advocates of Constitutional and international rights in India. The Indian government must immediately cease harassment of the Lawyers Collective and its founders Anand Grover and Indira Jaising.”"
Zarifi also raised concerns over the use of the FCRA to target civil society, which they argue, “has had a devastating chilling effect on public comment about the government.”
The Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales (BHRC) also issued a statement expressing “serious concern” that the raids were meant to harass and intimidate civil society organisations and human rights defenders. The BHRC noted the contributions of Jaising and Grover, saying
"“Indira Jaising and Anand Grover are prominent human rights lawyers and co-founders of the Lawyers Collective, an NGO which conducts public interest litigation for some of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities in India. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover have a long, honourable and globally recognised history of defending human rights at both a domestic and international level. BHRC is seriously concerned that that the raids form part of a pattern of harassment and intimidation directed against them and their organisation, which reports suggest may be motivated by political grounds.” "
BHRC Chair Schona Jolly QC also called out the manner in which the FCRA has been used in this case and others, saying:
"“We consider that there is considerable evidence that the FCRA is being misused and exploited to narrow the space for civil society activists and human rights defenders in India whose goals may differ from those of the government. Today’s raids on such esteemed human rights lawyers and defenders appear to form part of an egregious pattern of intimidation and has the hallmarks of a political attempt to silence critical activism and work.”"Who Are Anand Grover & Indira Jaising?
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.
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.
(With inputs from ANI)
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