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What about PM CARES, asks Congress after MHA scraps FCRA nod for Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Trust

MHA said ‘irregularities surfaced’ in operations of both NGOs associated with Gandhis. Congress asked why government is not auditing PM Cares Fund.

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New Delhi: The Centre has cancelled the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licences granted to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) and the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) citing alleged irregularities that came up during scrutiny, said sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). 

“Irregularities surfaced in both NGOs associated with Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and the cancellation is based on the recommendations of the inter-ministerial committee, due to violations of the FCRA norms,” said a spokesperson for the MHA.

Vijay Mahajan, CEO of RGF, confirmed to ThePrint Sunday that the foundation had received an order from the MHA saying that its FCRA registration stands “cancelled with immediate effect”.

“It has come over the weekend and that too, the Diwali weekend. We’ve informed all the trustees. We need to study the matter and see how we can respond. The next steps have to be thought through carefully so it may take several more days after the Diwali weekend,” said Mahajan. 

The move invited sharp criticism from Congress leaders who termed it a “symbol of political malice of the Modi government”. In addition to being trustees of RGCT, both former Congress presidents Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are on the board of RGF.

“Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has rendered a huge service to the society, whether during calamity and disasters and even otherwise. This is nothing but political vendetta,” said Congress MP and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

“What about the PM Cares Fund? Why has the government been concealing information on its performance? Why is public money not being audited? Cancelling RGF and RGCT’s FCRA licence is being perpetrated by BJP to besmirch the image of Gandhi family. Rajiv Gandhi sacrificed his life for this nation, he fell prey to terrorism. The BJP has done it without any reason. Government should answer what are the exact faults that prompted them to revoke the FCRA,” he said. 

Responding to the charge, BJP’s national spokesperson RP Singh said: “Government found irregularities in their operations. They received money from Zakir Naik who ran away to Malaysia, and China. They can say we took money 10 years ago or more, but a crime is a crime”.  

Also Read: Fake invoices, impersonation, hawala bribes: How ‘nexus’ of officials & NGOs ran FCRA scam

What are RGF and RGCT

The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) was set up in 1991, while the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) was registered in 2002. Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of both RGF and RGCT.

Trustees of RGF include former PM Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, former Rajya Sabha MP Ashok Ganguly, and Suman Dubey, who was press advisor to Rajiv Gandhi. 

According to the RGF’s official website, it worked in multiple sectors between 1991 and 2009, namely health, science and technology, women’s and children’s development, disability support, Panchayati Raj institutions and natural resource management. 

But the foundation shifted its focus to education in 2010 under its flagship programmes: INTERACT (educational support for children impacted by conflict), Rajiv Gandhi Access to Opportunities programme (enhancing mobility of physically challenged youth), Rajiv Gandhi Cambridge Scholarship (financial assistance for bright Indian students), Natural Resource Management (supporting Gram Gaurav) and Wonderoom (an innovative children’s library).

RGCT, meanwhile, says on its website that it has “worked tirelessly to help millions of the poorest people to overcome poverty, social exclusion, and mitigating circumstances to lead productive lives”. The trust counts Rahul Gandhi, Ashok Ganguly, Bansi Mehta and Deep Joshi as its trustees.

According to a report by The Indian Express, RGF and RGCT together declared foreign funds to the tune of Rs 326.7 crore between 2006-07 and 2019-20. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rural India Supporting Trust (RIST) and the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) were identified as some of the biggest benefactors of RGF and RGCT.

The report, citing financial declarations, also pointed out that the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi made a donation of Rs 90 lakh to both the outfits in 2006-07, along with the European Union (EU), among others.

In July 2020, the MHA constituted an inter-ministerial committee headed by an officer of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to probe allegations against three NGOs associated with the Gandhi family, namely RGF, RGCT and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust. The mandate of the committee, MHA had said in a tweet, was to probe “violation of various legal provisions of PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act), Income Tax Act, FCRA”.

The announcement came less than a month after heightened tensions between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) led to the Galwan clash. 

In that backdrop, the ruling BJP in July accused the Congress of receiving funds from China between 2005 and 2009 when it was in power at the Centre. The Congress retaliated by accusing the BJP of “playing diversionary tactics” and asked the ruling party to “stop living in 2005”, while also questioning the alleged ties of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — BJP’s ideological parent — to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Reacting to the move, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot wrote on Twitter Sunday: “Rajiv Gandhi Foundation works to serve orphans, women and specially-abled. Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust is working for women empowerment and service of the visually impaired.” 

Crackdown on foreign funding

Over the last three years, the MHA has cancelled the FCRA licences of over 1,800 NGOs over alleged violations of norms. Moreover, permission for renewal of licences of 783 NGOs was denied in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Under FCRA rules, if deemed fit after an enquiry, the MHA can cancel the licence in case the entity in question has sought grant of licence on “incorrect or false” grounds, or if the entity is found in violation of terms of renewal. A licence can also be cancelled if the entity has not engaged in “reasonable activity for societal benefit” in two years or more. 

A cancelled licence means the outfit cannot receive any foreign funding.

However, the provisions under the FCRA also say that no order of cancellation of certificate “shall be made unless the person concerned has been given a reasonable opportunity of being heard”. 

In December last year, non-renewal of FCRA licence to Missionaries of Charity (MoC) — established by Mother Teresa — had led to a controversy. The NGO’s licence was subsequently renewed in January. 

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, while hearing a challenge to amendments introduced in the FCRA, had ruled in April this year that “no one can be heard to claim a vested right to accept foreign donations, much less an absolute right”.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Kerala-based Islamic NGO ‘clearly violated’ foreign currency Act, so govt suspended its licence


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