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File photo. Indira Jaising, co-founder and trustee of Lawyers Collective, was the additional solicitor general of India between July 2009 to May 2014. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
File photo. Indira Jaising, co-founder and trustee of Lawyers Collective, was the additional solicitor general of India between July 2009 to May 2014. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Indira Jaising says will take govt to court over action on NGO

Home ministry suspends non-profit Lawyers Collective for six months for alleged violations of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act

New Delhi: Former additional solicitor general of India and noted human rights lawyer Indira Jaising on Thursday said she will take the government to court after the home ministry suspended her non-profit Lawyers Collective for six months for alleged violations of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010.

Jaising charged the government with victimisation, intimidation and “vindictiveness", saying the home ministry order came just days after she participated in a panel discussion on Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah’s alleged role in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.

The home ministry on Tuesday uploaded an order on its website alleging violations by not for profit Lawyers Collective. The order said, “It suspended the organisation’s licence for six months while issuing a show cause notice demanding the organisation explain why its licence should not be cancelled.

Jaising, co-founder and trustee of Lawyers Collective, was the additional solicitor general of India between July 2009 to May 2014. During her tenure, the ministry order states, she received remuneration of 96.60 lakh, adding: “It is really surprising, that how a senior law officer such as an ASG can simultaneously and for such a long period be on the rolls of a private entity, being paid (out of foreign contribution) for undisclosed purposes by the entity in gross violation of rules applicable to law officer of union of India..."

The notice also finds fault with the other trustee of Lawyers Collective Anand Grover, who was appointed United Nations Special Rapportuer on the right to health by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2008. The ministry accused him of using foreign funds to travel abroad.

Lawyers Collective issued a statement on Thursday, saying “the order/show cause notice is a malafide act and an act of vindictiveness on the part of the Government."

Separately Jaising flagged the timing of the notice and legal proceeding initiated by the ministry. She said the non-profit is yet to receive the official letter from the ministry and cited previous examples of selective leakage of information to the media, starting in November 2015.

“That news item (in 2015) alleging action against Lawyers Collective came on the date of the Mumbai High Court hearing regarding the case against Amit Shah and his role in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s fake encounter in 2005," she said.

The current notice, she said, has been issued days after she participated in a panel discussion on the same case, she added.

The statement by the organisation said, “This is being done because of the cases that Lawyers Collective (‘LC’) and its Trustees, Ms. Indira Jaising and Mr. Anand Grover, are involved in, including but are not limited to Sanjiv Bhatt, Yakub Memon and Priya Pillai. The aim is to destroy the credibility of LC by leaking it to the media, before even serving it on LC. LC till today has not received the order purportedly issued on 31st May, 2016, though it is available to the press."

Sanjiv Bhatt, a former Indian Police Service officer from Gujarat, has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court against then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Jaising campaigned against the execution of Yakub Memon, a convicted terrorist, who was hanged in 2015.

Jaising also represented Priya Pillai, the Greenpeace activist who was taken off a flight for London where she was meant to have appeared before a parliamentary panel hearing alleged violations of tribals in Madhya Pradesh. The case ended with the Delhi high court ruling in favour of Pillai.

Lawyers Collective is the latest not-for-profits to accuse the government of misusing provisions of the FCRA. The FCRA, governed by the home ministry, has been in the spotlight since mid-2014 with high-profile organizations such as Greenpeace India, Ford Foundation, Sabrang Trust and Lawyers’ Collective being accused of violating its provisions.

The act is intended to monitor the flow of foreign funds to not-for-profit organisations, political parties and individuals and journalists. Drafted during the Emergency era of the 1970s, the law was amended in 2010 and of late has come under fire from both international and domestic activists. It has also been in news recently due to a retrospective amendment made in the 2016 finance bill which makes it acceptable for political parties to receive foreign funding.

Emphasising that the post of additional solicitor general is not like that of a government servant, Jaising said that the organisation will take legal recourse.

“As has been seen in other cases, government action does not always stand up in the court of law. And we are confident that we have not violated provisions of the FCRA," said Jaising, adding that the organisation’s work will continue.

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