More than a year after it announced on Twitter that an inter-ministerial committee has been constituted to probe violation of various legal provisions by NGOs associated with Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently renewed the FCRA registration of two of them.
The Ministry also refused to provide any information about the findings or the composition of the committee under a Right to Information Act (RTI) query, stating, “such clarifications do not come under the ambit of the RTI Act, 2005.”
On July 8, 2020, MHA on its Twitter handle — @pibhomeffairs — had announced that an inter-ministerial committee to coordinate investigations into violation of various legal provisions of the PMLA [Prevention of Money Laundering Act], Income Tax Act, FCRA, [Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act], etc. the by Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust has been set up.
The announcement coincided with the height of tensions with along the LAC in eastern Ladakh in 2020, after 20 soldiers were killed in clashes with China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) on June 15. Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had sharpened his attack on the government, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of surrendering territory to China. The ruling BJP had then accused the two Congress-linked NGOs of receiving foreign funds from the Chinese government in 2005-06, and the probe committee was formed soon after.
Both the RGF and RGCT are registered FCRA associations, a pre-requisite for NGOs and other associations to receive foreign donations. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of RGF and RGCT. The registration has been renewed and is now valid till 2026. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust is not registered under the FCRA.
The Hindu had filed an RTI with the MHA seeking to know the composition and the terms of reference of the inter-ministerial committee, the number of meetings held so far and the findings of the report submitted, if any.
In response to the RTI query furnished after two months, B.C Joshi, Director, FCRA replied saying: “It is informed that, you have sought clarifications instead of seeking information as defined under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005. Such clarifications do not come under the ambit of the RTI Act, 2005. It is to inform that CPIO is not required to furnish information which requires drawing of inference and/ or making of assumption or to interpret information.”
On December 31, the FCRA registration of nearly 6,000 NGOs had lapsed as they had not applied for renewal of or did not meet the eligibility conditions. The FCRA registration is valid for five years and more than 18,000 NGOs came up for renewal in 2020-21. On Monday, the registration of 30 more NGOs ceased to exist. As of now there are 16,876 registered NGOs, down from 22,762 active on December 31.
The RGCT and RGF, both registered in Delhi, had filed annual returns for the financial year 2020-21 on December 29 and December 30 respectively. The returns show that the NGOs did not receive any foreign donation in fiscal 2020-21 but the account balance stood at ₹11.5 crore for the RGCT and ₹13.5 crore for the RGF.
In 2015, the MHA had amended FCRA rules to include additional columns in annual returns to state “if any functionary of the association has been prosecuted or convicted under the law of the land?”
In its entry under this head, the RGF had said a single private criminal complaint was pending against Trustees Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Suman Dubey since 2013. It added “proceedings have been stayed on a 482 Petition filed by the complainant in the High Court. There is no conviction.” It also mentioned that nine criminal defamation cases are pending against Rahul Gandhi and there is no conviction. “Two criminal cases are pending against Trustee P. Chidambaram where chargesheets have been filed. There is no conviction,” it stated.
The RGCT, a registered, not-for-profit organisation, was established in 2002. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the Trust and Rahul Gandhi is a member of the Board. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the biggest foreign donors to the NGO, located at Jawahar Bhavan at Rajendra Prasad Road, a prime location in Delhi.
The RGF was set up in 1991. Ms. Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson and the Board of Trustees include Dr. Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Suman Dubey, Rahul Gandhi, Dr. Ashok Ganguly and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. It is also located at Jawahar Bhavan.
The BJP has alleged that prime government property was allocated to the Congress NGOs on “perpetual lease.”
The Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust was established in 1985. The Trust operates from 1, Akbar Road and also manages the museum set up in memory of the former PM.