Why CBI raid at Lawyers Collective is a witch hunt

The CBI raid at the home of eminent lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising and offices of the Lawyers’ Collective in Delhi and Mumbai on Thursday carries strong whiffs of a witch-hunt

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Uttam Sengupta

First it was Greenpeace. Then it was the turn of Amnesty International. This time it is Lawyers’ Collective. Scores of other NGOs in the meanwhile have all been found guilty of FCRA (Foreign Contribution Registration Act) violations. Barring the BJP and the RSS of course.

It is somewhat ironic that a Government which introduced the opaque Electoral Bonds last year and helped the BJP rake in several thousand Crores from unknown donors from home and abroad, is pointing fingers at NGOs.

The CBI raid, in the absence of credible information, appears to be a fishing expedition. Search the house and offices of the lawyer couple and seize documents and see what you can find. Documents, statements, letters containing allegations against various government agencies, complaints from citizens seeking advice, information from whistle blowers submitted to the public spirited lawyers—everything can be seized, copied and then returned.

If more incriminating information is found to defame the Lawyers’ Collective, it would suit the Government. Even if nothing is found, information related to clients, whistle blowers, briefs and legal opinion on sensitive cases will also be invaluable. If this is not an assault on freedom that one is not sure what is.

Let us look at the charges that the Government has made public:

· Lawyers Collective received foreign funds worth ₹32 Crore between 2006 and 2015, on an average a little over ₹3.5 Crore a year for nine years.

· A part of this amount, the Home Ministry alleged, was diverted and spent either abroad or on activities not in consonance with the objectives of Lawyers’ Collective.

· The violations were noticed in 2010.

· An inspection of the books and records was carried out in January, 2016.

· The MHA submitted a show-cause notice for FCRA violations and received a reply in March, 2016.

· Another show-cause notice was issued on finding the reply unsatisfactory and another reply was received in July, 2016.

· Again finding the reply unsatisfactory, the Government first suspended and then cancelled Lawyers’ Collective’s FCRA Registration in November, 2016.

The MHA did nothing for the next three and a half years. But in May, 2019 the MHA filed a complaint with the CBI, barely four days before the results of the General Election were declared. It is on the basis of this complaint that the CBI conducted ‘raids’ earlier today in New Delhi and Mumbai, on July 11, 2019.

According to reports, the Home Ministry has taken ‘strong’ objections to the Secretary of Lawyers’ Collective, Indira Jaising, taking a salary of Rs 96 lakhs from the Collective between 2009 and 2014 when she was also an Additional Solicitor General of the Government of India.

Bar & Bench reported that the complaint mentioned that the conduct of the ASG violated the thrust of the FCRA Act. "The ASG being a Public Servant of a high stature and handling such sensitive matters have thus violated the thrust of the FCRA 2010 and consequently Section 3 and Section 11 thereof by not seeking clearances from the Govt. of India for receiving foreign contribution in the form of remuneration from Lawyers Collective…”

Even a layman would find the argument puzzling. The ‘salary’ received was not from the Government and did not involve the taxpayers’ money. It is not clear if the foreign donors ever objected and whether she paid tax on it and showed it in her IT Returns.

But even if the MHA found it against the ‘thrust’ of the FCRA (is it an admission that the violation was not of the letter but of the spirit?), doesn’t FCRA have provisions to impose penalty for violations or recovery of amounts?

More importantly, how many complaints has the MHA found so far of FCRA violations ? And what action has it taken against others ? Such information must be shared to dispel the strong suspicion that the raid is part of a witch hunt.

This suspicion is strengthened further because both Indira Jaising and her husband, Anand Grover, were served with a notice by the Supreme Court earlier this year on a PIL which sought a court monitored probe and direction to the Government to lodge a case against the NGO. Significantly, the petitioner was an NGO known as ‘ Lawyers’ Voice’.

That is why it would appear that both the eminent lawyers are paying a price for raising their voice against sexual discrimination in the Supreme Court, criticizing judgments in cases including the one related to the mysterious death of CBI judge B.H. Loya and generally for taking up the ‘wrong’ cases in the ‘wrong courts’ at the ‘wrong time’.

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Published: 11 Jul 2019, 2:46 PM