Days after four officials, including a Joint Secretary, of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) were suspended for renewing the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act registration of controversial preacher Zakir Naik’s NGO Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) despite an ongoing probe against him, it is learnt that at least three more officials will soon be suspended for ignoring alleged FCRA violations during an earlier audit.
Sources said among the alleged irregularities ignored was a donation of Rs 50 lakh by IRF to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust in 2011 during the second term of the UPA government.
Home Ministry officials Friday said they had placed IRF in the ‘prior permission’ category, under which it is mandatory for an organisation to take permission from the MHA before accepting or utilising any foreign contribution.
“Three or four more officials, up to the rank of Deputy Secretary at least, who served in the FCRA division of the Home Ministry in 2013 and 2014, are likely to be suspended soon. While some are serving in different branches of the MHA currently, others may have been posted to other ministries. The matter has been taken up with the DoPT (Department of Personnel and Training), and the suspensions are imminent,” sources said.
“During an audit of IRF conducted earlier, several FCRA violations were detected — such as non-declaration of foreign funding of one million dirhams, foreign funding of Rs 10 crore being placed in fixed deposits, as well as diversion of foreign funds to other end-users including the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust. While these violations were mentioned in the inspection report, the matter was diluted in the note sheet prepared by officials. The file did not even reach the Joint Secretary in charge of the FCRA division, as an Under Secretary had returned the file with directions to exonerate the IRF,” sources said.
Earlier this month, after it emerged that IRF’s FCRA registration was renewed by the MHA on August 19, three MHA officials — Under Secretaries Ipsita Saha Paul and Deepak Kumar and Section Officer Usha Bhangu — were suspended for negligence, while a data entry operator, Shyam Babu Kumar Manjhi, was removed.
Joint Secretary (Foreigners) G K Dwivedi was also suspended, prompting an unprecedented move in which all joint secretaries in the Ministry met Home Minister Rajnath Singh to convey that the suspension was “harsh” and “demoralising”.
A departmental inquiry by Secretary (Border Management) Susheel Kumar has been initiated to ascertain how IRF’s FCRA registration was renewed.
Reached for comment, IRF spokesperson Aarif Malik said, “In 2014, the FCRA division conducted an in-depth investigation, with its officials parked in the IRF office in Mumbai for three weeks. The result was that they gave IRF a clean chit. This probe happened under the same government. When a fresh questionnaire was sent to IRF in August, questions were being raised about what the MHA had found in its earlier probe. There was no way that the MHA could share the earlier report that gave a clean chit, as it would have a direct implication of witch-hunting by the government now.”
“The allegations being levelled against IRF by the MHA now are defensive reactions when faced with uncomfortable facts. They are inventing these things. As far as the donation to Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust is concerned, IRF makes donations for several causes such as higher education, surgeries and scholarships for medical students — all causes that fit into the charter of IRF. These are clearly reflected in annual returns filed by IRF,” Malik said.
The Congress Friday acknowledged that IRF had donated Rs 50 lakh to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) some years ago. The party said the amount was returned when there was a controversy over Naik’s activities recently.
Asked whether the party should have exercised caution, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “I don’t know about caution, but I certainly think that certain amount of astrological talent must be exercised… because at the time when this unsolicited, stray donation was received by the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust many many years ago, one would have to be a soothsayer or an astrologer because the donor organisation was not on any suspect list or watch list (then).”
“However, it was discovered by chance when recent events happened. The moment it was discovered, the paper work was checked and immediately some months ago, a remittance was made back,” he said. “I entirely agree that if any knowledge in any manner is available about an organisation which is suspect, full care and caution will be and is being exercised. But obviously this happened more than 5-6 years ago, when nobody knew about the possible implication of such an organisation,” he said.