The Lawyers Collective, a public interest advocacy group headed by lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, has been deprived of foreign funding for six months by the home ministry, which has accused it of misusing the funds it receives.
The order suspends the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act registration of Lawyers Collective for six months. There is also a show-cause notice that asks the group why the registration should not be cancelled.
Jaising and Grover have fought several cases against the government and BJP leaders, including the defence of 1993 Bombay blasts convict Yakub Memon, former IPS officer Sanjay Bhatt who has spoken out against the 2002 Gujarat riots, and Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai.
The group has accused the government of being vindictive, according to The Telegraph. In a statement, the Lawyers Collective said: "The order/show cause notice is a malafide act and an act of vindictiveness on the part of the government. The aim is to destroy the credibility of Lawyers Collective by leaking it to the media, before even serving it on Lawyers Collective."
The home ministry order that stops the group from collecting foreign funds refers to a 2013 case in which Grover, on behalf of the Cancer Patients Aid Association, successfully fought pharmaceutical major Novartis to disallow its patent on a leukaemia-treating drug in India, giving patients access to cheaper versions of the drug made in India.
The order said that Grover had "appeared in Novartis case" by "spending foreign contribution, which was clearly not meant for this purpose".
It also accused the Lawyers Collective of transferring foreign contributions from one account to another without the necessary approvals, and of hiring foreigners and paying them without the required sanction.
In response, the group said the Novartis case was a part of its defined mandate to improve access to medicines, and that it had explained the rationale behind the multiple bank accounts and the hiring of foreigners to the home ministry.
The home ministry also accused the group of holding rallies "with political hue and colour" with its foreign funds, which violates the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010.
The order also accused Jaising of violating the FCRA when she was additional solicitor-general during the UPA's second term, alleging that she received Rs 96 lakh from Lawyers Collective during this period, which she was not entitled to as a government servant.
The group also bore her expenses when she travelled to foreign countries like Nepal and USA, said the order.
However, Lawyers Collective said that as additional solicitor-general, Jaising was a public servant, not a government servant, so she could accept remunerations from other sources.
Grover was accused of misusing the group's foreign funds in his capacity as a UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. "He availed the foreign contribution for various purposes, including visits to foreign countries," said the home ministry order.
However, in the Lawyers Collective statement, Grover said the "visits to foreign countries" were precisely for his UN work.