Friday, 12 May 2017

Bombay High Court grants interim relief to ‘Lawyers Collective’

Court has observed that FCRA “does not provide for a government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations”

The Bombay high court has ordered de-freezing of the domestic and non-FCRA bank accounts of ‘Lawyers Collective’, the not-for-profit association run by former Additional Solicitor General of India Ms. Indira Jaising.

Justice M.S. Sonak in an interim order on 30th January 2017 restrained the Charity Commissioner from attaching the assets and accounts of the Lawyers Collective. The High court observed that while the Union government had powers under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to “regulate or, even prevent the acceptance of foreign funds by an association, the Act did not provide for a government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations.”

In November 2016, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had cancelled permanently the FCRA registration of ‘Lawyers Collective’, alleging misuse of foreign funds. MHA had also directed that all bank accounts of the NGO be frozen and that its assets be attached. The association then approached the High Court arguing that the MHA order that takes recourse under Sections 22 and 15 of the FCRA was erroneous and that the sections had been misinterpreted.

Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, appearing for Lawyers Collective, argued that FCRA provisions allowed for disposal of assets of only such organisations that had become defunct, but Lawyers Collective was an existing entity that conducted extensive legal research in the fields of health and social justice.

The Union government, through Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, argued on the other hand that the MHA’s cancellation order was valid since the “trustees of Lawyers Collective had diverted the money received by the association for personal gains”. Justice Sonak, however, observed that some of the allegations leveled by MHA were “quite vague” and since the appeal will be taken up for final hearing to decide upon the legality of the MHA’s decision, it would not be appropriate to halt the functioning of the association in the meanwhile

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