The Hindu
New Delhi

A year after the U.S.-based philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network was placed on a watch list by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), restricting all foreign donations from the firm, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named the “promoters of NGO Omidyar” in a First Information Report (FIR) filed on May 10.

The case pertains to alleged connivance of MHA officials and private consultants in facilitating illegal clearances to NGOs under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. The FIR names 36 accused persons. The list of accused mentions “promoters of NGO Omidyar,” without specifics. Under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), it is mandatory for NGOs to get clearance to receive foreign funds.

Omidyar has invested in prominent news websites such as Newslaundry, Scroll and The Ken and provided grants to think tanks, institutions and advocacy groups such as the Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR), Ashoka University and Centre for Policy Research, among others.

According to Omidyar’s website, it supported NITI Aayog during the design phase of National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP) by supporting a team for the Program Management Unit (PMU), led by IDinsight, and Development Data Lab.

The FIR alleges that on April 24, Devesh Chandra Mishra, a resident of Delhi contacted FCRA official Tushar Kanti Roy “for clearing of permission for receiving foreign remittance worth ₹3 crore as donation for an NGO namely Omidyar”. The accused official assured him of arranging the permission but “demanded 10% of the total remittance as bribe”. Mishra told the official that “the promoters of NGO Omidyar were ready to pay ₹5 lakh”. Finally, the official is said to have demanded at least 7% of the foreign donation in bribe stating that he had to give money to others as well.

The public relation firm handling Omidyar’s account did not respond to The Hindu’s e-mail request for a comment on the CBI’s allegation.

The MHA has identified at least three consultants who were offering various services pertaining to the FCRA to NGOs. The alleged racket in connivance with former and present MHA officials was running for the past six months.

On Tuesday, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted searches at 40 locations across India.

Explaining the modus operandi, a senior government official said, “The consultants were found offering facilitation services to the NGOs for renewal of their registration for a fee. They obtained information from the Ministry officials on where the NGO’s file was stuck in the system. They contacted the said NGO and offered speedy renewal against a fee.”

The official said the smaller NGOs were being charged ₹2 lakh each while there was a different rate list for the bigger associations that could go up to ₹15 lakh. The racket was exposed when one of the NGOs that was approached by the consultants complained to the Ministry officials.

The website of one of the consultants under the CBI’s scanner — Shaurya Business Solutions Pvt Ltd — has a separate section on the FCRA, offering services such as renewal of registration, filing annual returns and even fresh registration. None of the phone numbers listed on the website were reachable when The Hindu called on Wednesday. The “about us” section of the website said, “We are a team of professionals including chartered accountants, company secretaries, lawyers, cost accountants, MBAs who possess expertise across a wide range of business needs. We provide various services online as well as offline as per your requirement.”

The FCRA registration of several thousand NGOs are up for renewal since 2021, a process that has been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry has given several extensions due to the slow renewal process, with the latest deadline revised to June 30.

This is not the first time the FCRA division has come under cloud on corruption charges. In 2016, on the MHA’s complaint, the CBI had raided the residence of a Home Ministry official Anand Joshi for his alleged role in corrupt practices. The accused issued a notice arbitrarily to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in November 2015. A CBI official said that Mr. Joshi came under scanner after he arbitrarily issued standard questionnaires to a few NGOs, the first step to probe foreign funds violations under the FCRA.

The MHA in 2016 switched to an online renewal system for FCRA-registered NGOs to reduce human interface after several NGOs complained of bribes sought by officials to renew their registration. The renewals are done every five years.

The FCRA registration of nearly 6,000 NGOs had ceased to be valid from January 1 as the MHA refused to renew their application or the NGOs did not apply for registration. There were 16,890 FCRA-registered NGOs as on May 10, down from over 22,000 on December 31, 2021.

© Association for Democratic Reforms
Privacy And Terms Of Use
Donation Payment Method