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Home ministry plans overhaul of FCRA division

ByNeeraj Chauhan, New Delhi
May 13, 2022 01:51 AM IST

The ministry of home affairs has decided to revamp its Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) division for better oversight, enhanced verification and restricted access to files of NGOs seeking registration or renewal of foreign funding licences, officials said.

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) has decided to revamp its Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) division for better oversight, enhanced verification and restricted access to files of non-government organisations (NGOs) seeking registration or renewal of foreign funding licences, officials said.

The home ministry’s decision came two days after the CBI unearthed an alleged organised nexus between NGOs, government officials and middlemen for ‘illegal clearance’ of FCRA licences.
The home ministry’s decision came two days after the CBI unearthed an alleged organised nexus between NGOs, government officials and middlemen for ‘illegal clearance’ of FCRA licences.

The ministry’s decision came two days after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) unearthed an alleged organised nexus between NGOs, government officials and middlemen for “illegal clearance” of FCRA licences. At least 14 people, including six government servants, were arrested after the probe agency retrieved 3.21 crore during raids at 40 locations across multiple cities on Tuesday.

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“We are mulling major changes in the entire FCRA division’s processes so that corrupt government officials do not sabotage the system ,” an official familiar with the matter said, requesting anonymity.

The expected changes in the FCRA division include monitoring every NGO’s application by senior officers, multiple levels of verification – by the Intelligence Bureau before grant of licence as well as post approval -- and restricting access to government files.

Among key flaws which were identified by CBI in its investigation was that FCRA division officers at the rank of assistant director or accountant had access to all details of NGOs, and were able to contact them through different set of middlemen, promising relief . They were also able to leak real-time information such as ‘confidential enquiry reports’, status of NGO’s application, clearance date etc.

The six serving and former FCRA division officers – Parmod Kumar Bhasin, Alok Ranjan, Raj Kumar, Mohammad Saheed Khan, Mohammad Ghazanfar Ali and Tushar Kanti Roy – who were arrested on Tuesday will soon be suspended, as per Central Civil Services rules, once CBI submits its report on the case to the home ministry, a second official said, seeking anonymity.

The six serving and former FCRA division officers – Parmod Kumar Bhasin, Alok Ranjan, Raj Kumar, Mohammad Saheed Khan, Mohammad Ghazanfar Ali and Tushar Kanti Roy – who were arrested on Tuesday will soon be suspended, as per Central Civil Services rules, once the CBI submits its report on the case to the home ministry, a second official said, seeking anonymity.

While the FIR mentions only about 18 NGOs which reportedly managed to or were promised FCRA-related clearances by the accused officials, CBI suspects a large number of such organisations may have used the services of these three networks.

Omidyar Network, supported by billionaire philanthropist and e-Bay founder Pierre Omidyar is among institutions that have been named by the CBI in the alleged case of bribe-for-approval.

In the case involving Omidyar Network, that was put under the prior-permission category (an NGO with no regular licence needs to seek permission from MHA to accept funding) last year, CBI said that Tushar Kanti Roy promised relief to the NGO in lieu of a 10% bribe of the foreign remittance it would receive. Omidyar, however, was ready to pay 5 lakh, according to the FIR.

An email sent to Omidyar Network by HT remained unanswered at the time of filing this report.

Parmod Bhasin, Alok Ranjan and Roy were part of a network in which private persons posing as FCRA facilitators would contact NGOs across the country on the basis of list provided by these government officials, a CBI officer said, wishing not to be named,

The trio would inform NGOs that their registration or renewal of registration application, pending due to some issues, would be cleared only if they paid bribes ranging from 2 lakhs to 15 lakhs, the officer added.

These government officials had their conduits who would collect bribes for them. For instance, Pawan Kumar Sharma from Shastri Nagar in Delhi collected bribes for Bhasin, including through a hawala network in Chennai.

According to the CBI FIR, Bhasin accepted or was promised bribes by at least nine NGOs. However, officials believe the number of NGOs which connived with him for FCRA clearances illegally could be much higher.

The second ring, run by Alok Ranjan, who worked with middleman Ravi Shankar Ambastha , was in touch with at least six NGOs and demanded or accepted bribes from them. Ambastha is a resident of Rohini in Delhi.

The third network involves Santosh Kumar Prasad and his wife Amita Chandra, both directors of a consultancy firm , Shaurya Business Solutions Private Limited. Their website claims they provide FCRA services in NGO compliances, registration and renewal.

The couple worked with FCRA official Tushar Kanti Roy and handled work for three NGOs, including Omidyar, officials said.

“All three networks could be linked too. We are interrogating them about the involvement of others,” the second official cited above said.

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