The National Human Rights Commission has called for a report from the Central Bureau of Investigation regarding the status of investigation launched against the NGO Lawyers Collective for alleged violations of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act(FCRA).
The human rights body was acting on complaints filed by Henri Tiphagne, a human rights activist associated with Human Rights Defenders' Alert and Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, who expressed the concern that criminal case was a step to intimidate and harass the organization for their human rights work.
The NHRC noted that the FIR was registered in 2019 on the basis of an MHA report in 2016. The complainants submitted that there was no material change of circumstances between 2016 and 2019 justifying the registration of FIR. The CBI action followed the Supreme Court's notice in a PIL filed by another NGO 'Lawyers Voice', demanding action against the Collective.
The Commission acknowledged that the probe into alleged FCRA violations was outside its purview. However, in the light of these facts, the Commission headed by former CJI Justice H L Dattu observed that it has powers to examine the issue to "make it non-discriminatory and avoid arbitrariness"
"Taking into consideration that Shri Anand Grover and Ms. Indira Jaising have been actively raising the issues pertaining to alleged violation of human rights across the country and looking into their active role in the civil society, the Commission finds it appropriate to forward copies of the complaints lodged by Shri Henri Tiphagne and Ms. Maja Daruwala to the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi calling for present status of the investigation in the matter within 4 weeks", said the NHRC in a press release.
The CBI registered the FIR on June 13 against the NGO and Senior Advocate Anand Grover and its other unnamed functionaries. under various sections of the IPC, Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA) and Prevention of Corruption Act (PC) 1988.
The FIR is as per a complaint filed by Anil Kumar Dhasmana, an Under Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which was filed on 15 May 2019 alleging that the NGO diverted foreign contributions received by them for activities not mentioned in the objects of association and that funds were used for personal expenses unrelated to these objects.
Tiphange and Daruwalla submitted before the NHRC that Lawyers Collective is a group of lawyers with a mission to empower and change the status of marginalized groups through the effective use of law and engagement in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation. It was mentioned that Grover was the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Health between August 2008- July 2014 and Jaising was an Addl.Solicitor General of India between July 2009- May 2014 and a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women between 2009-2012.
Daruwalla said that a pattern of intimidation is going on against anyone who challenges Government policies. To substantiate her concerns, she referred to the timing of allegations made against her and her husband. She also stated that Ms. Jaising and Mr. Grover are long standing, reputed lawyers and Human Rights Defenders of high integrity, reputed both at home and abroad.
Lawyers Collective had expressed "shock and outrage" at the CBI action. In the statement, it said that it has "reasons to believe that its office bearers are personally being targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of judiciary" and to "silence them as they have taken up sensitive cases in the past".