New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has launched a nationwide crackdown as part of its probe into an alleged nexus between representatives of various NGOs and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials.
According to sources in the CBI, at least six officials associated with the MHA’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) division allegedly entered into a conspiracy with promoters and representatives of some NGOs to facilitate granting and renewal of licences in exchange for bribes paid through hawala channels.
The matter came to light this Wednesday with the arrest of 14 people, including six government officials. One official has also been detained.
Cash amounting to Rs 3.21 crore was also seized by the agency during searches at nearly 40 locations in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Assam, and Manipur.
A case had been registered in this regard on 10 May, on the basis of a complaint by the MHA against 36 persons, including seven officials of the MHA’s FCRA division and the National Informatics Centre (NIC), for granting and renewing licences in exchange for bribes.
A valid FCRA licence is essential for any NGO to receive foreign contributions. Once granted, it is valid for a five-year period and has to be subsequently renewed.
In January this year, over 6,000 NGOs lost their FCRA licence after it was not renewed by the MHA. At the time, MHA officials had said that 5,789 of the nearly 6,000 organisations did not apply for renewal “despite several reminders”.
While upholding amendments to the FCRA, the Supreme Court had last month ruled that receiving foreign contributions is not a fundamental or absolute right.
‘NGOs generated fake invoices’
Government officials named in the FIR and arrested are Parmod Kumar Bhasin, an MHA official posted earlier with the FCRA division; Alok Ranjan, Census division; Raj Kumar, an accountant with the FCRA division; Saheed Khan, Assistant Director, FCRA; Mohammad Ghazanfar Ali, MHA official earlier with the FCRA division; and Tushar Kanti Roy, currently with the FCRA division. NIC official Uma Shankar, also named in the FIR, has been detained, according to sources.
The officials do not yet have a lawyer to represent them, and are thus unavailable for comment.
The FIR also names at least seven NGOs operating in India.
“Some of these NGOs were getting backdoor FCRA registration and renewal by paying bribes. These were NGOs who do not have the required documents to go through the genuine process. These NGOs did this so that donations from foreign countries keep coming in. Moreover, they also generate fake invoices to justify their expenditure for the defined cause,” a source in the CBI told ThePrint.
According to the FIR, Parmod Kumar Bhasin, posted earlier with the MHA’s FCRA division, even “impersonated as FCRA official of New Delhi and habitually collected undue advantage from different NGOs through hawala network”. Those accused and their associates also approached NGOs, telling them how they could bypass the “complicated and lengthy” renewal process for an FCRA licence by paying a bribe.
The FIR also mentions one Devesh Chandra Mishra, who allegedly granted NGO Omidyar permission to receive foreign remittance worth Rs 3 crore as donation. “The permission was assured in exchange of 10 per cent of the total remittance as bribe. This is how these deals were struck,” said the source.
Omidyar has invested in news websites such as Newslaundry and Scroll. It has also provided grants to think tanks, institutions and advocacy groups such as the Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR), Ashoka University and the Centre for Policy Research. ThePrint’s attempts to contact Omidyar for a comment on this issue, through email, did not elicit a response till the time of publication of this report.
According to the FIR, Arnita Chandra, the director of a consultancy firm and also an accused in the case, allegedly offered to help NGOs expedite the “complicated and lengthy process” of renewing their FCRA licence.
‘Bribes for ignoring deficiencies’
MHA official Parmod Kumar Bhasin, sources said, contacted NGOs to inform them about “deficiencies” in their application for an FCRA licence. These “deficiencies”, he would tell them, can be ignored for a price.
According to the FIR, Bhasin approached S. Rajasekaran of Ganga Medical Center and Hospital on 4 April to inform him that the FCRA licence renewal request for his NGO — Ganga Orthopaedic Research & Education Foundation (GOREF) — cannot be processed owing to discrepancies in the annual return documents submitted by the latter’s chartered accountant.
Bhasin allegedly told Rajasekaran that he would have to pay a penalty equal to 5 per cent of the total amount received by the NGO as donation each year.
“On this, Rajasekaran suggested that his internal auditor would contact him and Bhasin demanded a bribe of Rs 2 lakh for favourable processing of their annual returns without penalty,” the source told ThePrint, adding, “The bribe was then paid through a hawala channel. It was also found that Bhasin used that hawala network to get money from different NGOs located all over India.”
‘Bribes to resolve pending complaints’
According to the FIR, MHA official Alok Ranjan, in connivance with one Ravi Shankar Ambastha, approached NGOs to discuss “pending complaints against their NGO” before demanding bribes to resolve them. In one instance, an NGO even agreed to pay Rs 15 lakh as bribe to settle the matter.
“Alok Ranjan would impersonate an official of the FCRA department and tell the NGO that complaints have been received against them but things can be managed and settled in lieu of money,” the source said.
It was also found that MHA official Bhasin sought the help of one Anish Selvaraj to contact several Tamil Nadu-based NGOs “desirous of getting their FCRA licence renewal by paying bribe instead of inviting penal provisions against their NGOs”.
According to CBI sources, Selvaraj identified such NGOs and conveyed this information to Bhasin, who then got in touch with them to demand a bribe.
“All these NGOs wanted the FCRA licence to obtain foreign funding and hence, they showed interest when they were contacted. Bhasin used to tell these NGOs that if they don’t pay the bribe, they will have to cough up a huge penalty which is why most of them agreed to pay the money,” the source said.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)