The Gujarat government says US-based non-profit Ford Foundation in India is involved in “covert activities” that violate its “stated goals of promoting communal harmony, democratic principles and social justice.” The Centre has put it on its watchlist and restricted movement of its funds without prior approval in “national interest and security”.
But at least seven premium Central institutions run research and scholarship programmes that drew over $2.5 million from the foundation between 2008 and 2013.
These are: IIT Bombay, IIM Ahmedabad, National Law School of India University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, GB Pant Social Science Institute and National Academy of Legal Studies and Research.
Describing the government’s decision as “unfortunate”, R Venkata Rao, Vice Chancellor, NLSIU, said the institute does not need the government’s permission to accept funds for projects.
“We are a statutory body and our finances are subject to audit. From the founding days of this institute, Ford Foundation has funded us and remained part of the academic culture. At present, very eminent scholars, including our founding director N R Madhava Menon, are handling the Ford Foundation projects and have done great work thanks to the benevolence of the foundation,” said Rao.
The Bangalore-based NLSIU currently has two Ford Foundation-funded projects and a Ford Foundation Chair on Public Interest Litigation. A $300,000 Ford Foundation project on capacity building and technical assistance was due to conclude in May 2014 but has been extended till December 2015.
The other project, a three-year legal training programme worth $600,000, will conclude this July. “The Ford Foundation was generous to sanction $600,000 but we could utilise only $400,000,” said Professor V S Gigimon, assistant programme coordinator.
In IIT-Bombay, the Ford Foundation-funded project on affordable broadband will continue till May 2016. The three-year project was launched with a grant of $530,000 in 2013.
According to the institute’s research and development office, another three-year Ford Foundation funded project — on the feasibility of using white spaces for wireless broadband services for the rural poor — was scheduled to run till July 2015 but was concluded before time.
“We (IITs) don’t need government’s permission (for accepting funds). Regarding the recent development, we have not received any instruction from the government on funds from the Ford Foundation,” Dr Devang Khakhar, Director, IIT Bombay, told The Indian Express.
IIM-Ahmedabad received $164,840 and $150,000 in 2008 and 2012 from the foundation for “impact assessment of pilot projects using wireless technology to provide Internet access to underserved rural communities in central India and to disseminate the findings”.
Details of these projects were not readily available as Rekha Jain, who led the policy advocacy studies, was travelling abroad, an IIM-A spokesperson said. Ashish Nanda, Director, IIM-A, was also travelling and could not be contacted immediately, his office said.
JNU concluded two Ford Foundation Grant programmes in 2005 and 2011. In 2010, the JNU Vice Chancellor’s speech mentioned a range of MoUs with sponsoring foundations and research institutes including Ford Foundation.
According to the university’s finance office, there are two “perennial endowments” from the foundation to fund a visiting professorial fellowship in the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance (CSLG), and scholarships in the Department of International Studies.
“I remember attending a Ford Foundation programme some time back. As such, we don’t need the government’s clearance unless foreign accounting is involved and we haven’t got any specific instruction on Ford Foundation funds,” said S K Sopory, Vice Chancellor, JNU.
Jamia Millia Islamia, which has a Ford Foundation endowed chair, also received $200,000 in 2013 for research on “how the transition to digital television broadcasting affects access, openness, affordability and diversity of content and to disseminate the findings at conferences, in print and online”.
“Jamia receives funds from a number of sources and Ford Foundation has been funding research activities in India for a very long time. I don’t think we need government’s permission for accepting funds for research etc,” said Talat Ahmad, Vice Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia.
Allahabad-based GB Pant Social Science Institute got $200,000 in 2009 to research and document “links between heterodox religious sects and democratic empowerment of Dalit communities” in Uttar Pradesh.
Hyderabad-based NALSAR got $330,000 in 2013 for a human rights project to build knowledge of legal remedies for enforcement of economic and social rights in India.
In an email reply to queries, the Ford Foundation said: “As a charitable foundation, everything we do is transparent and readily available on our website. As the current inquiry progresses we will continue to respond fully to official queries directed to us. At present we have not yet heard directly from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Our aim is to work closely with government partners to clarify any area of question or concern. If the government suggests methods by which we can strengthen and improve our grant-making processes, we will take swift and appropriate steps to incorporate them. We are confident in our work and compliance with law and look forward to a constructive outcome.”