Lakhs of rupees collected by Red Cross societies in Punjab for Kargil War Relief, Orissa Cyclone Relief and Gujarat Earthquake Relief never reached the victims and the funds were utilised for purposes other than those for which they were collected.
This revelation, which has the potential to kickstart a nationwide debate on the role and functioning of the Red Cross all across India, was made after an analysis of the accounts of three district branches of the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) — Ludhiana, Patiala and Sangrur.
The records also reveal large-scale diversion of grants received from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Rehabilitation Council of India and MPLAD Scheme.
Not only that the funds collected by these societies have been allegedly misused or diverted for other purposes, there is evidence of misuse of Red Cross funds for personal expenses by senior IAS officers, who are the branch presidents by virtue of being the deputy commissioners (DCs) of their respective districts, the records reveal.
The DCs appear to have misused the Red Cross funds for buying cars, mobile phones, furniture, air conditioners, refrigerators, car petrol/repair, telephone and mobile bills, hotel and restaurant bills, crockery, furnishing, etc. The expenses have no relation to Red Cross activities and objectives (see box on page 2).
Hitender Jain, general secretary of Resurgence India, said: “The DCs have made Red Cross their fiefdom and the rules and regulations have been rendered absolutely meaningless by them. In view of the misuse of funds in the three district branches, it can be safely inferred that the quantum of pilferage nationwide is likely to run into hundreds of crores. The misuse of Red Cross funds merits a thorough investigation into all IRCS branches at the state and district levels by the CBI.” He said the NGO proposed to move the Punjab and Haryana High Court in this regard.
Indian Red Cross Society Secretary General S.P. Agarwal, when contacted, said there was no way the deputy commissioners who were also the presidents of Red Cross branches in their respective districts could be allowed to misuse the Red Cross funds.
In fact, Resurgence India has also sent a representation to Union Health Minister Dr A. Ramadoss for initiating a CBI inquiry into what it described is a “saga of loot and deception” by authorities of the Red Cross.
The analysis of accounts shows that in 1999-2000, the Ludhiana Red Cross locally collected donations of Rs 6.16 lakh for the Kargil War Relief but spent only Rs 300 out of it. The remaining funds were diverted for other purposes.
It’s not only that the funds meant for the soldiers were diverted for purposes other than the victims’ relief, several lakhs of rupees collected by Red Cross societies in the name of Orissa cyclone and Gujarat earthquake were also not sent to the victims.
For instance, the Ludhiana Red Cross has shown a collection of Rs 17.63 lakh in 1999-2000 on account of “Orissa Relief Fund”, of which only Rs 11.49 lakh was spent for that purpose while the remaining Rs 6.13 lakh was diverted to other purposes.
The Patiala Red Cross is not different from Ludhiana. It has shown an income of Rs 59.9 lakh in 2004-5 on account of “Donation for Victims of Tsunami”. But the account details show that only Rs 47.85 lakh was spent for tsunami relief while Rs 12.13 lakh meant for the victims was utilised for other purposes.
The Patiala Red Cross, in its balance-sheet as on March 31, 2005, shows that it diverted Rs 1.18 lakh meant for Gujarat Earthquake victims for other purposes. Moreover, in the income and expenditure account for 2005-6, Rs 12.75 lakh has been shown as income on account of “Refund of amount received spent for victims of Gujarat”.
This means that a total of Rs 13.93 lakh meant for Gujarat earthquake victims was utilised for other purposes.
Similarly, the Sangrur Red Cross has shown Rs 4.48 lakh in 1999-2000 as “Transfer of funds from Cyclone Relief Fund” in its income and expenditure account while there is no corresponding expenditure against this head. There is another such case. The Sangrur Red Cross has shown an income of Rs 3.12 lakh in 2002-3 as “Transfer of Funds from Gujarat Relief Fund Section A/c” while there is no corresponding expenditure against this head.
Senior officials, including a former Chief Secretary, admitted the wrong but apparently did nothing to stop this blatant practice when they were heading the state bureaucracy.
Admitting the gross misuse of Red Cross funds, the officer, who was also the DC in Ludhiana many years ago, said: “The Red Cross today is no different from the government of Punjab. They collect huge funds but hardly anything goes to the beneficiaries. The DCs have no business to use even a penny out of Red Cross funds to augment the infrastructure at home such as air conditioners, POL for their cars, telephone expenses, etc.”
In the past, he said the DCs had been stopped from collecting funds for the Red Cross because the government knew the funds were largely misused for their own personal expenses.
“There should be a ceiling on the use of Red Cross funds — maybe 10 per cent of the entire collection can be allowed to be spent on administrative expenses and the rest should go for relief and welfare,” he added.