THE Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a Delhi-based NGO that aims to strengthen training, research and policy development in public health, has been barred from receiving foreign funds including from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The Union Home Ministry has cancelled PHFI’s registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, alleging violations of the law. PHFI’s licence was renewed for five years in August 2016, said officials.
Headed by noted public health expert K Srinath Reddy, PHFI — it was launched by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 — provides technical assistance to Central and State Governments in several areas ranging from HIV prevention, access to drugs, tobacco control and immunization to environmental health, universal health coverage, public health cadre development and capacity building of primary care physicians.
The RSS-backed Swadeshi Jagran Manch had recently alleged a nexus between the Gates Foundation and big pharma and its “influence” on health policymaking. Speaking to The Indian Express, co-convenor Ashwini Mahajan said: “We have met the Union Health Minister and raised the matter regarding funding of PHFI by BMGF.” According to the Home Ministry, the PHFI license has been cancelled for alleged FCRA violations. These include alleged lobbying with parliamentarians and media for the anti-tobacco lobby. It was further alleged that PHFI had opened bank accounts which were not disclosed to the ministry and had “misreported” foreign donations received over the past three years. Officials claimed the NGO had transferred significant sums outside India without alerting the Home Ministry.
In an e-mail response to The Indian Express, the PHFI spokesperson said, “PHFI has received notification from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) — FCRA Wing regarding the renewal of its FCRA Registration. Certain observations have been made by the Ministry on utilisation of funds related to PHFI’s projects on tobacco, HIV/AIDS and its financial reports. PHFI has submitted the requisite information and documents to the MHA on the observations raised in the notification and provided the needed clarifications…PHFI is seeking an early resolution of the issue and continuation of the FCRA registration, based on the clarifications provided.”
Reddy was quoted by PTI as saying: “We have submitted all relevant documents and information to the ministry and are now waiting for a response.” According to the PHFI’s website, the chairman of the executive committee of its governing body is Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy and members include former deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Health Secretary C K Mishra. The website claims that several Central departments and state governments of Gujarat, Telangana, Odisha, Meghalaya, Karnataka and Delhi as collaborators along with a range of academic institutions in India and overseas including WHO, World Bank, All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health and the National Human Rights Commission.
After the NDA government came to power in May 2014, FCRA licenses of around 20,000 NGOs have been cancelled by the Home Ministry. Of these, the FCRA licenses of over 9,500 NGOs were cancelled in 2015. Among them were senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Indira Jaising’s NGO, Lawyers Collective (LC), Greenpeace, and Teesta Setalvad-run Sabrang trust.
The Home Ministry also toughened its stand in the case of Compassion International (CI), the Colorado-based child rights donor agency and despite US pressure refused to remove it from the prior permission category. Last year, three US NGOs George Soros-run Open Society Foundation; World Movement for Democracy and National Endowment for Democracy (NED) were put under prior permission category.