Institutes barred from foreign funding cry foul, say they filed their returns on time
Several high-profile institutions Thursday countered the Narendra Modi government's claim that they failed to file details of foreign fundings. The list includes some of the best seats of higher education in India.
The Union Home Ministry Wednesday cancelled the registration under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of hundreds of institutions, saying they didn't file returns for the last five years. This means institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the University of Delhi, the Indira Gandhi National Open University, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and numerous others will not be able to accept funds from abroad.
Now these institutes are crying foul. Many of them told Catch that they submitted their returns on every occasion and claimed that the government did not intimate them prior to the decision.
Confusion reigns supreme
Panjab University Vice-Chancellor Arun Kumar Grover says he only heard about the move from the media.
“We have been filing all our returns, audited and subsequently filed with the government. There is no question of not filing our returns for the past five years. If there were any discrepancies, we should have been intimated by the government, but we weren’t," he told Catch.
Similarly, principals of Delhi University colleges such as Gargi College and Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College, despite being on the list, told Catch that all returns were filed on time.
"We have filed our returns. We got a reminder about filing returns recently and replied to the university that we have already complied. I’m not sure why this has happened," says Promila Kumar, principal of Gargi College.
JNU and DU management was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.
IGNOU V-C Ravindra Kumar told Catch that he was unaware of any such decision by the government. “I am hearing such a thing for the first time. We will get in touch with the government and sort out the issue.”
'Oscillating decision making'
However, a highly-placed source in Delhi University told Catch: “On one hand, the UGC regulations state that category-I universities have to self-fund expansion and growth of higher education. On the other hand, they are slapping a revoke on foreign funding. They want privatisation and corporatisation to fund higher education, but then suddenly they debar foreign funding. This move is in-keeping with this govt’s oscillating decision making. A lot of alumni give in money to universities and specific colleges in the universities."
"They want to keep a strict watch on how much money which institute is getting, so they can fund these public institutes accordingly. Yes, there have been many cases where colleges and university do not seek income tax clearance for the same. There is clause for income tax waiver for donations etc, but in most cases it does not fall under the clause. But this move is quite unnecessary as DU is already in the process of clearing up the cases with the government. Most public-sector institutes will be removed from the list soon,” he said.
Such a removal from the list has happened for ICMR.
"ICMR is funded by the Government of India, through the Department of Health Research and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The Home Ministry wrote to us earlier this year, saying that we have FCRA exemption. However, we were required to submit an annual report to the Home Ministry on the receipt and utilisation of funds. That report was submitted recently and the matter has been resolved," said ICMR Director General Soumya Swaminathan.
The government's version
The Doon School Old Boys Association, Dr. Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre, Gandhi Peace Foundation, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, Armed Forces Flag Day Fund, Sri Satya Sai Trust, School Of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, and the Ficci Socio Economic Development Foundation are some of the other organisations that have been denied access to foreign funds.
No institution is allowed to receive funds from abroad unless it is registered under FCRA. It is mandatory for such organisations to submit their annual income and expenditure statements to the government. An educational institution needs its FCRA registration number to receive donations from abroad.
A home ministry official reportedly told Indian Express, “The action came after the organisations failed to file their returns from 2010-11 to 2014-15, despite being served repeated notices.”
According to ministry officials, all organisations registered under the FCRA were given enough time to file their documents and were informed that they will lose their license if they failed to comply.
A 'strange' step
Interestingly, the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund, which is also on the list, claims that according to the rules clearly laid out by the government of India, they are not required to file their returns with the government of India.
Col (Retd) P Ramesh Kumar, Director, Sainik Welfare, told Catch that they have also not received any information from the government. “The Armed Forces Flag Day Fund is a part of the state government department of every state. We work on the guidelines issued by the Central government for the benefit of the ex-servicemen. We collect donations from the state government, public sector, some corporates etc. The information of all funds received and expenditures are filed with a state managing committee which is headed by the honourable governor of the state and has some IAS officers and some ex-servicemen. Each state has a state managing committee."
Kumar underlines how they do not have to file returns with the Central government or home ministry.
"The accountant general of the state audits our book. Secondly, we do not solicit any funds from abroad. In fact, we haven’t had an instance where any foreign firm has contacted us so far. NRIs who want to contribute, we are required to take their information and seek permission from the government. But no such instance has occurred. This is really strange. It must be a mistake,” he said.