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The Bombay High Court has restrained the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from taking any coercive action against NGO Lawyers Collective until August 19.
A Division Bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre granted interim relief to the NGO run by Senior Advocates Anand Grover and Indira Jaising on Thursday, after it moved a plea to quash the FIR lodged by the CBI alleging violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010. The CBI has also been directed to file its reply in the matter by August 19.
Appearing for Lawyers Collective, Senior Counsel Aspi Chinoy submitted that the NGO is doing important work in the field of law and human rights.
“They are not a fly by night operator but have done yeomen service in the field of law and rights”, argued Chinoy.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh appeared for the CBI to oppose the NGO’s plea. He submitted that the CBI’s FIR mentions Grover and others as accused for discrepancies in the NGO’s returns filed with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Singh told the Court that the CBI had filed an FIR against Grover and the others on a complaint by the MHA that the foreign aid received by them between 2006 and 2014 was used in violation of FCRA norms. Singh argued that the grant of interim relief to petitioners would hamper the CBI investigation.
Lawyers Collective, Grover and others are booked for suspected offences of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, making of false statement in the declaration under the FCRA 2010, and criminal misconduct under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. In addition to invoking the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the CBI has charged them under Sections 33, 35, 37, and 39 of the FCRA 2010 and Section 13(2) with Section 13(1)(d) of the PC Act.
The Home Ministry’s complaint states that after prima facie irregularities were found, a response from Lawyers Collective was sought. The reply was submitted by the NGO in March 2016, but was found to be unsatisfactory. Thus, the Ministry suspended Lawyers Collective’s FCRA registration pending appropriate action. Subsequently, a show cause notice was issued under the provisions of the FCRA.
In July 2016, a written reply was submitted by the NGO, which was again found to be unsatisfactory and did not provide “adequate explanation vis-a-vis the violations found”. Eventually, in November 2016, the MHA cancelled the FCRA registration for Lawyers Collective.
In connection with investigation into the matter, the CBI also carried out raids at the Mumbai and Delhi offices and residences of Grover and Singh earlier this month.
A petition challenging the cancellation of Lawyers Collective’s FCRA registration is pending before the Supreme Court. More recently, a PIL was filed by another NGO named Lawyers Voice, seeking a direction to the Central government for registration of an FIR against Jaising, Grover, and Lawyers Collective for offences under the IPC, PMLA and PC Act.
This PIL led to Senior Counsel Indira Jaising, Grover, and Lawyers Collective issuing a press statement claiming victimisation for taking up the issue of sexual harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi.
The Bombay High Court will take up the matter next on August 19.