The home ministry has blocked funding of 300,000 pounds (Rs 3.09 crore) for Amnesty International India as the source of a third of that amount is a trust registered in the tax haven of Gibraltar, founded by a man of Indian origin who pleaded guilty to gambling fraud in the US.
While the Indian arm of the global human rights advocacy group sought government permission in 2012-13 to receive 200,000 pounds from Amnesty International in Britain, the source of the remaining 100,000 pounds was The Kusuma Trust, founded by Anurag Dikshit.
Dikshit had pleaded guilty to gambling fraud and the US FBI had imposed a $300 million fine on him and another $105 million on his PartyGaming PLC, an Internet gambling firm, also registered in Gibraltar.
Amnesty International India does not have a Foreign Contribution Regulation Act registration, and hence approached MHA for clearance to receive funds from Kusuma. Amnesty had approached MHA in 2010 and 2011 to receive funds from abroad and the two requests were clubbed and the agency was allowed to receive 200,000 pounds from Amnesty International, London, in 2011.
But the new proposal to receive 100,000 pounds from Kusuma — which came with another proposal to receive 200,000 pounds from Amnesty International in Britain — was referred to the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for inquiry.
Amnesty, a Nobel peace prize winning organisation, primarily focuses on advocating and campaigning for human rights. It has been highly critical of Indian security agencies and the Indian government for their human rights track record.
In its strategy for 2011-14, The Kusuma Trust’s website said, “Our mission is to facilitate and increase access to education and other life opportunities for children and young people, with the focus on the most economically disadvantaged.”
Kusuma funds 10 organisations, all working in the field of education. Kusuma’s annual report for 2013 also reveals that its key area of spending is education, with a focus on establishing tangible assets and research to improve education in India.
Reached for comment, a spokesman for Kusuma said in an e-mail response, “The trustees of the Kusuma Trust UK are proud to be supporting this important educational initiative; teaching the fundamentals of human rights in schools.”
Amnesty India chief executive, Anantha Padmanabhan too said the funding proposal is for human rights education in India.
“At present Amnesty is engaged in 30 schools and we want to increase our reach to 300 schools. Kusuma’s funding is only for this purpose and not for advocacy. Our human rights education initiative is well received in India and the fact that the National Human Rights Commission chairman and Vice President of India invited us to make presentations stand testimony to it,” he told The Indian Express.
MHA sources, however, said reports from RAW and IB pointed out that Kusuma mainly worked in the area of education and this is “vastly different from Amnesty International’s focus” and there is a “disconnect” with the nature of work of the trust and Amnesty.
The sources also said the MHA is planning to put Kusuma on the list of foreign donors who require prior approval from MHA to donate to Indian NGOs.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram had recently asked the home secretary to cancel the registration of NGO’s allegedly misutilising foreign funds.
Subsequently, the MHA has also informed the Economic Intelligence Council that it has sent queries to 188 associations appearing in the list of the IB for allegedly misutilising foreign funds.
Also, the MHA has kept 27 foreign donors under observation and four foreign donors have been put under prior approval category. MHA has also referred six cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation and various state police forces.