Whistleblower asks why allegation of violations of FCRA and PMLA rules by Anar Patel has not triggered the same response from the Modi government as charges against Teesta Setalvad and Indira Jaising
Ahmedabad: As the Enforcement Directorate ordered an investigation into Gramshree Trust, a non-profit entity started by Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, allegations that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) played favourites by letting violations slide have started to shadow the CM and her family.
Started in 1995, the trust, now headed by the chief minister’s daughter Anar Patel, is under the scanner for possible violations of the Foreign Contributiuon Regulation Act (FCRA) and Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). In her letter accepting the complaint, vigilance assistant director Snehlata Grover said the “matter has been referred to the concerned section of the Enforcement Directorate for further appropriate action.”
Amid the crackdown for FCRA irregularities on NGOs that began last year, Gramshree Trust seems to have repeatedly escaped the MHA’s clutches. In April 2015, the ministry cancelled the registration of 9,000 NGOs for failing to make mandated financial disclosures from 2009 to 2012. Curiously, three months later, when the MHA cancelled the licenses of another 4,470 NGOs citing FCRA violations, Patel’s organisation remained untouched.
Ahmedabad-based RTI activist Roshan Shah, whose relentless pursuit ended in the complaint against Gramshree, told The Wire that the trust has been shipping handicrafts and other artisan-made products from 2006 to 2009 outside of India but never disclosed the income generated from any of these consignments.
To Shah, this is nothing but a clear sign of preferential treatment. He said, referring to the investigations against Teesta Setalvad and former solicitor general Indira Jaising: “It is a shame that Gramshree Trust has not even filed their annual returns, which is a bigger crime. They do events outside, get revenues and do not disclose it. Which is a bigger crime – disclosing the wrong data or getting revenues and disclosing nothing at all? MHA officials were aware of the matter and if I had been in an executive position, I would have sent officials home for such biased behaviour. The law is biased, favouring Anandiben’s family.”
Recently, Ford Foundation was taken off a government watch-list which required all their donations to be cleared only after government approval. Ironically, Ford Foundation’s woes began after the Gujarat government alleged that it had funded “anti-India” activities by Setalvad’s NGOs Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace.
In fact, bills of lading show that several shipments of handicrafts were sent by Gramshree Trust from India to New York, San Francisco and Singapore, totalling 775 kgs. Shah said: “These shipments were made from Gandhi Ashram where Gramshree also has a store. FCRA has no record because there was no registration at the time and neither does the charity commissioner. So clearly either the money has come in and not been reported or the money has stayed outside. When I approached the customs department seeking information on the declared value or revenue or even who ended up getting money for these shipments, the PIO refused despite orders from the Appellate Authority.”
Documents accessed by The Wire show that the trust has not filed its annual returns for three years since it was allotted FCRA registration in 2011. “I also requested to see their returns from previous years [before the FCRA registration was allotted] because the Bombay Public Trust act requires trusts to keep their returns forever. But the charity commissioner did not find any returns since Gramshree’s inception in 1995,” said Shah.
More legal murkiness
Gramshree also includes Gramshree Women Empowerment, a section 25 company established in 2011 (section 8 under Companies Act, 2013) under its banner. Such entities are set up as non-profits and are legally obligated to ensure that any surplus generated is put back into the functioning of the organisation. The chief minister and her daughter are both listed as directors of Gramshree Women Empowerment.
Further, Gramshree Trust is the umbrella NGO that runs an initiative called Craftroots, which provides artisans with raw materials and sells finished goods for them. Their website claims that the income generated from this is sent back to the artisans, the majority of whom are women.
“Whether FEMA and other laws were violated is still to be investigated,” says Shah. “As a trust they are expected to keep their financial documents in place for as long as they keep functioning. But the charity commissioner said he had no information to share because no disclosures had been made.”
According to an Economic Times report last July, Anar Patel was looking for funding to set up an e-commerce website to sell artisanal products. “We have a fund of Rs 2 crore that is currently being invested, but in order to make it a commercial project of a scale worth Rs 200 crore, we will need outside funding,” Anar Patel was quoted as saying. “And getting venture capitalists on board is the next logical step.”
This was right around the time MHA cancelled the licenses of “repeat offenders”: NGOs that had repeatedly failed to furnish their annual returns and other financial dealings.
The Wire contacted Anar Patel and Vandana Agarwal, the additional director of Gramshree Women Empowerment, for their comments, but received no replies.