While the Centre has been strict about granting foreign funding licences to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and has, since 2014, cancelled over 16,000 licences issued under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), the Union Home Ministry recently granted approval to a Gujarat-based Patidar NGO, Vishv Umiya Foundation, to receive foreign donations for the construction of a temple-cum-community complex.
The NGO, sources said, is backed by the powerful Patidar community and was started in 2017 with NRI Chandu K Patel as its chief coordinator. Patel, who switched from the Congress to the BJP in 2008, is also president of the National Federation of Indian-American Associations and owns several motels in United States.
The ministry decision comes at a time when it has tightened norms for several other NGOs receiving foreign aid. It had earlier cancelled licences of several prominent NGOs, including Teesta Setalvad’s organisations. Greenpeace and Ford Foundation had also come under the Home Ministry’s scanner for violating provisions of FCRA. Senior lawyer and former ASG Indira Jaising’s Lawyer’s Collective had lost its FCRA licence.
Home Ministry sources confirmed the Vishv Umiya Foundation is listed under the “religious (Hindu), educational and social” category and has been granted “prior permission” under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, that is the NGO can get an FCRA licence after three years, but can go ahead with the ‘prior permission’ to construct the Vishva Umiyadham temple-cum-community complex, a Rs 1,000-crore project.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Patel confirmed that his NGO had received the nod from ministry and would now seek contributions from community members settled abroad.
“We had applied for permission to receive funds from the Patidar community all across the world. This project is of Rs 1,000 crore. Funds are being raised in India and abroad. We have sought prior permission from the Ministry of Home Agffairs and we have received the same. We had started this NGO a year and a half ago and are getting very good support. Besides the temple, a hospital and healthcare facilities, a sports and cultural complex, an education institute and hostels are part of the project,” Patel said.
The NGO, based in Ahmedabad, says it will construct a temple dedicated to goddess Umiya Mata, revered as ‘kuldevi’ by Kadva Patidars, one of the two major sub-castes of the community.
The temple-cum-community complex, planned over 40 acres, is likely to be completed by 2024. The coordinator of the NGO, R P Patel, who is also the convenor of the Patel Organisation Committee (POC) in Gujarat, said, “Our primary donors are in the United States and FCRA permission has been obtained to receive donations from abroad. The social
empowerment project will not only cater to Patidar community but will be open to others as well,” he added.
A home ministry official told The Sunday Express that they had received an application from the NGO last year. “We informed them that an NGO in formative stage is not eligible for FCRA licence and that they should apply for prior permission in case they want to bring foreign contribution into their organisation,” he explained.
Under FCRA rules, any NGO seeking prior permission is required to provide a commitment letter from the donor indicating the amount of foreign contribution and the purpose for which it is proposed to be given. Rules say that the chief functionary of the recipient Indian organisation should not be part of the donor organisation and at least 51% of the office-bearers or members of the governing body of the recipient organisation should not be members or employees of the foreign donor organisation.