SC refuses to stay the order of the Bombay HC, granting protection to Lawyers Collective.

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Amidst a series of landmark decisions by the Supreme Court before the retirement of the CJI Ranjan Gogoi, it has also pronounced its verdict in the Lawyer’s collective FCRA case. The Supreme Court has refused to grant a stay on the Bombay HC order granting interim protection to lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising in a plea filed by the CBI. Earlier, in this matter, the Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI] registered a criminal case, naming Anand Grover and other functionaries of the organisation, against their NGO Lawyers Collective for alleged violations of the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

The matter was presided over by a bench headed by the outgoing Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi along with Justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari. Earlier, Aniruddha Bose recused himself from hearing the said matter. As per the report of Live Law, it has also noted that the court has sought responses from Lawyers Collective. The issue before the court today was to stay the earlier decision as pronounced by the Bombay High Court. On July 25, Bombay HC pronounced its verdict granting interim protection to the NGO and its functionaries, directing the concerned authority to not take any coercive steps until further orders of the court.

The Supreme Court challenged the decision of the Bombay High Court by the CBI. It argued that the Bombay HC erred in not ruling upon the merit as to how was the FIR against the said accused parties ‘unsustainable and wrong in law’. Neither did the judgment considered as to how an ongoing investigation against the said accused would be ‘contrary to the law of the land’.

In the first batch of petitions, before the Bombay HC, it was alleged that the complaint filed by the CBI based on a two-year-old report of the Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA], which accused Lawyers Collective of violations of FCRA. It was said that the CBI did not make any application of mind on the report instead based on it proceeded to file a criminal complaint. It was brought to the notice of the court that Indra Jaising was not named in the FIR; her name was mentioned in the MHA report, which is a part of the FIR.

The report of the MHA called to her some specific allegations of violations of the FCRA. The accusations on Lawyers Collective and its functionaries was that between the period of 2009 to 2015, the NGO received foreign funding. However, on checking the records, it has failed to disclosed not to reflect a significant part of those funding, it says that it was utilised for ‘personal benefits’ and thus is a clear violation of the FCR Act.

The report as prepared by the MHA also discloses that while Indra Jaising was appointed as the additional solicitor general of the country, she continued to withdraw remuneration from the NGO which was attributed to the funding received from foreign agencies. The report was prepared based on an inspection report conducted in 2016, setting out the primary allegation to be that of non-disclosure. After that, MHA issued an order based on the report cancelling the registration of Lawyers Collective and thus disallowing it from receiving any further foreign funds. The NGO took the matter to the HC in 2017 and remained pending before a single judge. The primary question that arises is that the FIR came two and a half years after the MHA report. That too, when the matter is still pending (sub-judice) in the court.

There has been widespread condemnation of the recent attacks on the NGO as well as two well-known lawyers. It has been called “a brute show of intimidation as well as a gross abuse of power”. It is being seen as a direct fallout of the striding work of social justice done by the NGO as well as both Indra Jaising and Anand Grover in their capacities.

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