By Sandhya Ravishankar
The CBI’s FIR against Oxfam India opens up serious questions on what the mega NGO was doing with its foreign funding. While violation of the FCRA Act is evident, the Bureau asks a more worrying question – was Oxfam India working as a foreign agent on behalf of foreign powers?
“This exposed the Oxfam India as a probable instrument of foreign policy of foreign organisations/entities which have funded the Oxfam India liberally over the years,” states the FIR.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had, on April 07, handed over the Oxfam India case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The CBI subsequently filed an FIR and raided the offices of Oxfam India in Delhi on April 19, 2023.
Below is a summary of the key points in the FIR.
- Routing funds through other means despite FCRA registration having been cancelled
- As per Income Tax Department survey of Oxfam India, its income is as below.
|Assessment Year||Amount (in Rs)|
- Key officebearers: Shankar Venkateswaran (Chairperson); Amitabh Behar (CEO); Pankaj Anand (Director-Programme & Advocacy) and others are named.
- Oxfam India had funded Environics Trust to “mobilize communities with the help of local unions against the coal industries. A portion of the agreement between the two NGOs is reproduced in the FIR.
- The FIR takes a serious view of this and states – “Oxfam India and its employees appears (sic) to be supporting agitational activities.
- Centre for Policy Research (CPR) received Rs 12 lakh towards “short term training” of which Rs 5 lakh was for CPR to use in any way they pleased. Foreign funding was in effect being given as commission, to circumvent the Act.
- A large number of NGOs also received sub-grants from the FCRA amount. A total of Rs 2.2 crore was paid out to various NGOs by Oxfam India after September 2020 when the FCRA Act was amended to make such sub-grants illegal.
2 Creation of a new structure to continue funding NGOs while bypassing FCRA laws
- Since Oxfam India’s FCRA registration was cancelled, the NGO drew up a new structure that would continue to help it carry out its unstated objectives.
The idea was that Oxfam India would co-ordinate with foreign funders (Affiliates) and get them to fund handpicked Affiliate NGOs directly through the FCRA route. One such example noted in their email exchanges is that of NGO Samvad.
Oxfam India would also set up For-Profit Companies (FPCs) which would completely oversee the expenditure and the project work of these Affiliate NGOs.
Oxfam India would have an “arms-length” approach to both the FPC and the Affiliate NGOs, while in reality driving the whole agenda from behind the scenes.
Affiliate NGOs such as Samvad were chosen for funding as Affiliate NGOs on the condition that they would allow Oxfam India “complete freedom to plan the program and staffing in manner they want.”
Below is an email excerpt which is part of the CBI FIR.
The diagram below is replicated from the CBI FIR. It outlines the roles and responsibilities of each part of the new structure. XXX indicates Oxfam India.
3 Plans to pressurise the Indian government through foreign governments & foreign institutions
- Oxfam India was planning to use its influence with the World Bank, IMF, European Union, US State Department, Asian Development Bank and a clutch of European governments to put pressure on the Indian government to renew its FCRA registration. Excerpts of an email are reproduced below.
Steve Price-Thomas, Director of Advocacy, Campaigns and Engagement of Oxfam International based in Hanoi, Vietnam wrote on 28 January 2022 to Diereke van der Wijls, Mustafa (unclear), Maria Rosario Felizco, Jeyong Mei copying Amitabh Behar, Pankaj Anand and Nadia (unclear).
“As you may have heard, the Indian government recently refused to renew the FCRA licence of thousands of Indian society organizations, including Oxfam India. We are doing a lot of behind the scenes work as the (unclear) including the European Union, US State Department and Senate, World Bank, IMF and various European governments.
We would also like to raise the issue at some level with the Asian Development Bank. Under the rules agreed by the Executive Board, the S Asia regional Director is the organizational high-level lead in the ADB, supported by the regional platforms, with Oxfam Hong Kong as an alternative lead. However, I know that there’s been a lot of transition and I’m not quite sure where the relationship stands now. Does anyone in the regional platform (or indeed OHK or Oxfam Philippines) have an existing high level relationship with the ADB (unclear), it would be great if we could use it to send a letter along the lines of the ones we have recently shared with the World Bank and others.
Please could you let me know? I will be off next week for the lunar new year, but I’m pretty sure that the Oxfam India ED Amitabh Behar, or head of our Washington DC office Nadia (copied) will be willing and could point you to existing content that could be adapted for a better email, based on those we have sent to other institutions in recent weeks.”
- The Irish embassy was also approached by Oxfam India by Amitabh Behar in an effort to get the Ireland government to lean on India to renew FCRA. The excerpt of the email is below.
4 Suspicious donations from huge number of foreign individuals
- Strangely, a large number of donations have come in to Oxfam’s FCRA account from individuals abroad. Even stranger is that the amounts round off perfectly when converted into Indian rupees. And a large number of individuals have donated the exact same amount. Below is a sample of the individual donations from abroad.
- The amount of money donated by foreign individuals via the FCRA route is suspiciously high.
|Financial Year||Amount received by Oxfam India via individual foreign donation (approx in Rs)|
*Source: CBI FIR
- A British citizen by name Banwari Lal had gifted Oxfam India immovable property in Haryana in 2020. Oxfam India sold it for Rs 4 crore but showed the value of the land as Rs 2.46 crore only. This has raised suspicions about evasion of stamp duty.