Millennium Post

Where did all the money go?

The actual amount of foreign funds reaching the country’s NGOs every year remains a mystery. It is not known either to the government or the public. It may run into sever billions of dollars and a good part through illegal routes such as hawala. Thus, the union home ministry’s (MHA) latest report on foreign funding of India’s non-government organisations (NGOs) lacks credibility as also reliability in the face of the government’s own claim of knowledge of overseas funding of terrorism, fundamentalism and India’s economic instability.

For instance, Saudi Arabia, long believed to be the largest fund provider to promote the Wahhabi movement, mosques, madrassas and seminaries in India, does not even find a mention in the MHA report. Instead, Christian Churches and NGOs figure prominently in the list of foreign fund receivers. Domestic Christian charities and NGOs now fear that the recent tightening of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) is intended to be unreasonably harsh on them. The fear may not be entirely unfounded in view of the fact that these NGOs cornered the largest chunk of over Rs 90,000-crore-worth foreign funding of local NGOs officially declared between 2001 and 2011. Over 4,000 NGOs were deregistered by MHA, last year, a good number of them being Christian institutions.

However, something serious seems to have gone amiss in the latest MHA report of foreign donations received in 2010-2011 by NGOs. It made much of the huge overseas contributions received by Kerala’s Believers Church India (Rs 160.72 crore) and Tamil Nadu’s World Vision (Rs 233.74 crore). The two institutions, along with several other Christian bodies, claimed a big share of the total of over Rs 10,000 crore worth NGO funding by overseas entities in 2010-2011. Surprisingly, the successive home ministry annual reports on the subject over the last 17 years left Saudi Arabia out. This is despite the fact that there had been reports in the media quoting the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police and central intelligence officers that the massive funding of the valley’s Ahl-e-Hadith comes primarily from Saudi Arabia.

A year ago, an investigative feature in one of the leading magazines quoted the police and intelligence sources saying US intelligence reports had it that Saudi Arabia planned way back in 2005 to spend $35 billion in South Asia for the purpose of building mosques and madrassas. ‘Wahhabi groups across Jammu and Kashmir were beneficiaries of this largesse,’ it said quoting an unnamed senior state police officer. Hardly visible over a decade ago, Ahl-e-Hadith is said to have over 15 lakh members in the valley, representing more than 16 per cent of J&K’s Muslim population. Besides some 700 mosques and madrassas it built, Ahl-e-Hadith is believed to have funded 150 schools, several colleges, orphanages, clinics and medical diagnostic centres. It also proposed a Rs 200-crore Islamic university, Transworld Muslim University (TWMU), in Hyderpora, Srinagar, affiliated to leading Saudi institutions. The proposal was referred to a select committee after state Congress chief Saifuddin Soz opposed it in the Legislative Council on 9 October 2010. Based on a district-wise count, JKPF’s Chairman Fayaz Ahmad Bhatt said nearly 7,000 mosques, including 911 in Srinagar, preach the orthodox Wahhabi brand of Islam. Kashmir’s non-Muslim minority, too, views the Wahhabi ingress as a ‘conspiracy to Talibanise Kashmir’.  In contrast, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the only West Asian country to feature in the home ministry list of foreign fund contributors to Indian NGOs. Naturally, it may give an impression that the generally-believed Saudi funding of Islamic institutions in India is nothing but a myth? Overseas fund flows are not always reported by their local receivers. Or, they come through the illegal hawala route. A third possibility is that MHA is not aware of such foreign fund flows to those local organisations which are not listed with the government under FCRA or not reported. Two years ago, there were some 21,000 defaulter associations which failed to submit to the home ministry their returns for the years of 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. They were issued show cause notices by the government. Till today, there is no official confirmation about how many of these organisations had actually responded to those notices and what action had the government taken against the defaulters.

As on 31 March 2010, there were 38,436 registered associations, up 5.5 per cent from the previous year and 27 per cent when compared to 2004-2005 and 68 per cent as compared to 2000-2001. Clearly the number of registered NGOs that receive foreign funds has hugely surged in the last decade. Last year, only 22,735 associations filed their returns for 2010-2011. They include 7,754 NGOs, which filed ‘nil’ return for the year. Nearly 48 per cent associations did not bother to file any return of remittances if received at all. This questions the reliability of the MHA statement of the total annual foreign fund contribution to Indian NGOs and its purpose and nature of utilisation. The actual foreign fund flow could be much larger than what is in the official knowledge of the home ministry. Is such unreported contribution being used for money laundering, terrorist activities, Maoist movement or funding protests against development projects, including nuclear power plants and land acquisition for the use of core and infrastructure sectors, as mentioned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, sometime ago? (IPA)
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