Govt vs NGOs: Anand Joshi case reopens festering wounds of mistrust

The underlying tension between the Government of India and civil society organisations (CSOs) has come to the fore again with the CBI registering a case of corruption against an undersecretary in the Union Home Ministry after it emerged that he had allegedly removed critical files linked to an investigation against social activist Teesta Setalvad.

Anand Joshi, who reportedly went missing on Wednesday just before a CBI grilling, has since brought stunning charges against Ford Foundation and some of the senior bureaucrats within the Ministry of Home Affairs, claiming that he was being made a scapegoat because he refused to accept a bribe of Rs 250 crore offered by the US-based donor agency.

Joshi, who was shunted out of MHA's foreign funding division in January this year, was found in illegal possession of crucial files pertaining to the alleged FCRA violations by Setalvad’s two NGOs — Sabrang Trust and Centre for Justice and Peace (CJP).

The Ford Foundation logo is pictured outside its office in New Delhi. AFP

The Ford Foundation logo is pictured outside its office in New Delhi. AFP

Sabrang Trust's registration under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) was suspended in September 2015. It became due for cancellation in March 2016 and it is only then that MHA bosses noticed that key documents are missing.

"The MHA could not trace the Sabrang Trust file around March, and the undersecretary was an obvious suspect. That was when officials of the FCRA division chased him and threatened him into handing back the file," a ministry officer told The Times of India.

Now Ford Foundation — which was only recently taken off the government's "prior approval category" after being put on the watch list in April 2015 — was one of the donors to Setalvad's Sabrang Trust, which is alleged to have diverted foreign funding to uses other than those permitted under FCRA.

The charge against Joshi is of indulging in corrupt activities and arbitrarily issuing notices to a large number of NGOs who receive foreign funding. He allegedly demanded and obtained illegal gratification from some of these organisations, which were then laundered through various immovable assets as well as certain private firms, according to a CBI statement.

According to Times Now, Joshi, however, claimed that the personal assistant of Ford Foundation's chairperson had approached him in October 2015 and offered money in exchange for his support. And upon refusal, he was allegedly pressured by senior officials to give Ford Foundation and some other NGOs a clean chit.

“I was offered around Rs 200-250 crore to remove Ford Foundation from a blacklist. When I refused, the organisation lodged a complaint with the PMO. Officers in my department, such as Additional Secretary BK Prasad, began pressuring me to give a clean chit to Ford Foundation. When I refused, all these allegations of corruption were levelled against me. I never removed the file on Sabrang Trust either,” Joshi told The Indian Express.

A PTI report quotes Joshi as claiming that Prasad had "verbally" asked him to give favourable comments on Ford Foundation "which I refused. Soon, he ensured that I am transferred out of Foreigners Division. I demand that the CBI should investigate BK Prasad. There should be an investigation why clean chit was given to Ford," Joshi said.

"It is a conspiracy against me. I have given adverse opinion against many NGOs including Greenpeace, Ford Foundation and two NGOs of Teesta Setalvad," he said.

Times Now journalist Aditya Raj Kaul, who tweets @AdityaRajKaul, in a series of posts on Tuesday quoted Joshi as saying that Ford Foundation's Kavita Ramdoss offered him 250 crore bribe.

In an emailed response to The Hindu, however, Ford Foundation said: “This is a baseless allegation, and we reject it completely and unequivocally.”

This is not the first time that Ford Foundation has found itself under the spotlight. In April 2015, the Centre ordered all funds from the US-based donor agency to be subject to its scrutiny and approval due to “national security concerns”. The MHA also decided to keep a watch on all of its activities. The order was revoked in March this year following some diplomatic pressure and Ford Foundation's move to register itself under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).

Since coming to power, the NDA government has cracked the whip harder on NGOs and cancelled the licence of nearly 9,000 of them including big boys such as Greenpeace India, citing lack of transparency and violations of foreign funding norms. Last year the Centre cancelled Greenpeace's licence to operate in India due to "financial fraud and falsification of data". The organisation termed it as "an assault on free speech."

The genesis of the problem lies in the grey area where NGOs operate and the role they perform. While service delivery of CSOs are considered necessary in a billion-strong country where millions stay out of the ambit of life's basic necessities like schooling, sanitation, housing and education, the problem arises when NGOs take recourse to strategy advocacy, lobbying, mass mobilisation and strident campaigning to usher in change in government policies.

A file photo of Teesta Setalvad. PTI

A file photo of Teesta Setalvad. PTI

The Manmohan Singh-led UPA too had tried to rein in the influence of NGOs in fields such as human rights and environment citing "national security" or economic development. The NDA, which sees itself as the target of concerted attacks by NGOs, has taken a grim view of the rampant political and social activism by some of them and believes that some NGOs use foreign money to foment dissent and civil unrest within its boundaries while acting ostensibly as watchdogs.

A 2015 report by Economic Times revealed how Ford Foundation, for instance, was under Intelligence Bureau (IB) scrutiny for the past one year (2014) and grants worth $5 million given by it had been blocked by the government amid suspicion that it was funding organisations and NGOs that were working against national interest. The Gujarat government had also complained to the Home Ministry that Ford was interfering with the country's judicial system and working against communal harmony.

Tehelka, similarly, quoted an IB report which was submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 identifying several foreign-funded NGOs that are “negatively impacting economic development”.

The 21-page report added that “a significant number of Indian NGOs, funded by some donors based in the US, UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, are using people-centric issues to create an environment which lends itself to stalling development projects”.

“Foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of the Western government.”

The IB report also calculated how campaigns headed by Greenpeace and other NGOs had drained three percentage points off India's annual growth rate — an annual loss of around $60 billion.

For their part, NGOs accuse the government of bullying, witch hunt and using scare tactics to ensure that nobody comes in the way of big projects.

There have been suggestions that NGOs should be brought under RTI net to ensure transparency and accountability. Right now, there is too much mutual distrust and animosity.


Published Date: May 11, 2016 04:10 pm | Updated Date: May 11, 2016 04:10 pm


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