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Reading of “violations” of FCRA by Lawyers Collective doesn’t reveal evidence of financial fraud

indiraA People’s Union of Civil Liberties statement by Dr V Suresh, National General Secretary, PUCL, and Prof Prabhakar Sinha, National President, PUCL:

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) strongly condemns the continued persecution of Senior Advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover and the `Lawyers Collective’ organisation run by them, by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) using the coercive provisions of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 in an arbitrary, biased and politically motivated manner.

The vindictiveness is evident from the fact that the Order dated 31.5.2016 of the Central Government suspending the FCRA registration of Lawyers Collective for 6 months was leaked to the Press even before it was formally communicated to them. Even earlier in November, 2015 media articles reported that Show Cause notices were issued to the Lawyers Collective for violation of FCRA even though no such Notice was received by the Lawyers Collective. Thus there is a pattern to the actions of the MHA by first launching a smear campaign tarnishing the image of Lawyers Collective even before an enquiry.

A plain reading of the alleged violations of FCRA by the Lawyers Collective do not reveal any evidence of financial fraud or defalcation having occurred. All the queries raised by the MHA appear to be technical in nature.  It’s very clear that the MHA has launched a witch hunt against yet another NGO which has been consistently taking up in a principled manner issues of human rights violations in the State of Gujarat and accountability of the political leaders to excesses committed under their watch.

It is also pertinent to point out that Indira Jaisingh and Anand Grover have defended the cases of Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, Teesta Setalvad, Yakub Menon and Sanjiv Bhatt, the former IPS officer from Gujarat. Anand Grover has also appeared in the case protesting the discharge of BJP National President Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin encounter case. The present action against the Lawyers Collective is calculated to create a climate of fear and intimidation in an attempt to silence anyone from challenging the present BJP Government.

Indira Jaising,  Anand Grover and the Lawyers Collective team have for the last 4 decades stood for the rights of the most marginalised sections of society – from tribals to urban poor to rights of unorganised sector workers; from women to sexual minorities; from victims of communal violence to issues of HIV patients – they have been in the forefront of all major struggles to secure justice. Their contribution to the development of law and jurisprudence is unparalleled. Noteworthy is the role played by Indira Jaising and Lawyers Collective in the framing and implementation of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment Acts. They have always enjoyed the fairest of reputations for their ethical and principled conduct inside and outside courts.

It is ironical that while there is a relentless plundering of national and natural resources  by the corporates and unearthing of a regular stream of corporate scams exposing massive financial fraud and diversion of money to foreign lands, little or no action is being taken by the Central Government in this regard.  In stark contrast, activists and NGOs fighting against the plundering and looting of national wealth and natural resources, environmental degradation and violation of rights of people are being targeted over frivolous charges. Lawyers Collective, Indira Jaisingh and Anand Grover are the latest victims to join the long list of people being targeted by the Central Government.

PUCL demands that the central government immediately drop the witch hunt against Indira Jaisingh, Anand Grover and the Lawyers Collective under the FCRA. We would like to remind the Central Government that such repressive actions meant to silence groups and suppress dissent not only destroys the democratic fabric of our society but also eventually damages the standing of India as a democratic country in the comity of nations of the world.

Suspension of human rights NGO’s foreign funding license must be revoked: Amnesty International

New foreign funding restrictions imposed on Lawyers Collective, a prominent human rights organization, violate constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association, Amnesty International India said today.

On 1 June, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs suspended for 180 days Lawyers Collective’s license to receive foreign funding. The Ministry stated that the NGO had violated several provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), primarily by using foreign funding for purposes other than for what it was received. It also asked Lawyers Collective to explain in 30 days why its license should not be permanently cancelled.

“There is no doubt that the government is being vindictive. Lawyers Collective is being targeted because its office-bearers have taken on the government in a range of cases. The FCRA allegations are clearly a pretext to silence these dissenting voices,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India.

Lawyers Collective is known for its pioneering work on violence against women, LGBT rights and the right to health. Its trustees include lawyers Indira Jaising, a former Additional Solicitor-General of India and a former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and Anand Grover, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

The lawyers have independently handled several important human rights cases, including representing activists seeking justice for the 2002 Gujarat violence and extrajudicial executions in the state.

Indira Jaising told Amnesty International India: “I certainly believe that this is selective targeting and certainly related to the work Anand Grover and I do, not only at Lawyers Collective but also as human rights professionals. The funding has been used for the work for which it was related. There is no question of being intimidated. We are definitely going to respond and challenge this notice in court.”

The FCRA has been used by successive governments as a political tool to suppress dissent and harass groups critical of government views and actions. Its use of broad and vague terms such as ‘public interest’ and ‘national interest’ have left it open to abuse as a de facto system of pre-authorization of the use of foreign funding. In September 2015, the central government cancelled the FCRA registration of Greenpeace India and suspended the FCRA registration of an NGO run by activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand.

In April 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association reiterated that the ability to access foreign funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association, and said that the FCRA restrictions were not in conformity with international law, principles and standards.

“The FCRA provides a convenient cover for the government to go after NGOs it does not like,” said Aakar Patel.

“NGOs can of course be required to be transparent and accountable about their activities and sources of funding. But laws like the FCRA should not be used to obstruct organizations from receiving foreign funding for legitimate work. Civil society organisations in India must not have to bear more restrictions than other entities, such as private companies, which also receive foreign funding.

“The suspension of Lawyers Collective’s FCRA registration should be immediately revoked, and steps taken towards the repeal of the FCRA. The government must end its clampdown on civil society.”

 

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