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Charge of NGO funds racket

New Delhi, Jan. 18: A rights organisation today accused the Centre and state governments of giving huge, unaccounted grants to NGOs including blacklisted ones, often against a bribe.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights said it was basing its claims on replies to a series of RTI applications it had filed in 2010. Releasing the report, “India’s Funds to NGOs Squandered”, the rights body’s director, Suhas Chakma, made these claims at a news conference here:

Between 2002-03 and 2008-09, the Centre released Rs 4,756 crore and the states Rs 1,897 crore in grants to NGOs — a total of Rs 6,653 crore in seven years.

This isn’t the full figure as many departments and PSUs withheld the information sought or understated the figures, going by government statements in Parliament.

The total funds given to NGOs that were blacklisted — mainly for irregularities in past projects and expenditure — cannot be ascertained because only two ministries’ replies listed the recipients.

The lists show that the Council for the Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology, an autonomous body under the Union rural development ministry, released Rs 46.8 lakh in 2009 to five NGOs it had blacklisted in 2007. The five are: Nirmala Weaker Section (Andhra), Sarvodaya Ashram (Bihar), Magadh Social Development Society (Bihar), Pazhakulam Social Service Society (Kerala) and Vijay Warangal Trust (Maharashtra).

The Union women and child development ministry continued to give Rs 110 crore annually to three NGOs it had banned in 2006. These are the Central Social Welfare Board, Indian Council of Child Welfare and the Bharatiya Adim Jati Sewak Sangh.

Contacted by The Telegraph, officials of these two ministries refused comment.

Chakma said Union government funds are given to NGOs only if they have a recommendation from a state government.

“This facilitates corruption. In most cases, only NGOs that are close to government officials or have control over political leaders are selected for grants. The selection is often based not on expertise but on the applicant’s ability to pay a bribe,” Chakma said.

He said many NGOs had told him the bribe ranged from 15 to 30 per cent of the grant.

“Using a conservative estimate of 15 per cent, at least Rs 1,000 crore was spent on bribes to different layers of officials between 2002-2003 and 2008-2009. That blacklisted NGOs are re-funded exposes the malaise,” alleged Chakma, who said his organisation worked across South and Southeast Asia but did not seek or receive Indian government funds.

A former NGO official who didn’t want to be named confirmed to this newspaper that “bribes” were very much part of the grants process.

Speaking to The Telegraph later, Chakma cited how the CAG had in April 2012 expressed dismay at the rising volume of funds disbursed by the ministries to local bodies and NGOs.

“A major concern repeatedly brought out by CAG is that accounts of funds utilised by the implementing agencies are not readily available and there is need to ascertain whether there are unspent funds lying with these agencies,” the report said.

It added that “77 per cent of the total plan expenditure was in the form of grants-in-aid payment” and that “in five of the 10 ministries and departments incurring the largest plan expenditure, over 99 per cent was in the form of disbursement of grants-in-aid”.

Chakma, whose organisation is part of the National Human Rights Commission’s core group of NGOs, said: “All government programmes for socio-economic growth are now implemented through collaboration with the private sector and civil society. So how the government gives money to NGOs for delivery of service needs to be clear.”

He added: “The government has been focusing on foreign funding but hasn’t realised the amount it itself allocates to voluntary organisations without accountability.”