The Tuticorin Diocesan Association had its Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) registration suspended or cancelled back in 2015. The suspension came following adverse reports from intelligence agencies and subsequent inspections and investigations by government authorities. The Ministry of Home Affairs, led by Shri Kiren Rijiju at the time, suspended the FCRA registration of the Tuticorin Diocesan Association, along with two other NGOs. Furthermore, their respective bank accounts were frozen.
At the time of the FCRA registration suspension, the primary reason cited by the Indian government was the alleged involvement of the Tuticorin Diocesan Association in “NGOs using Foreign Funds for Anti-National Activities.” This led to the release of a public statement by the Home Affairs Ministry on March 4, 2015, through the Press Information Bureau’s official portal, titled “NGOs using Foreign Funds for Anti-National Activities.” Shri Kiren Rijiju Ji’s response in the Rajya Sabha was cited as the basis for this release.
Continued Receipt of Foreign Funds And Its Misuse and Diversion
Despite the suspension and subsequent cancellation of the FCRA registration, the Tuticorin Diocesan Association has continued to receive foreign funds, amounting to Rs. 44,507,214, into its Bank of Baroda account at the Tuticorin branch. It is noteworthy that a significant portion of these foreign funds is earmarked for activities related to the welfare of children, maintenance, and construction of orphanages, among other purposes.
The LRPF’s communication to the NCPCR raises concerns over the alleged misuse and diversion of these funds, especially considering the prior suspension of the FCRA licence. The Tuticorin Diocesan Association, as registered on the NGO Darpan portal maintained by the NITI Ayog under the unique ID TN/2018/0201247, claims to work for the welfare of children, differently-abled individuals, the elderly, and in the domains of education and literacy. Their activities also include running and maintaining homes for destitute children, specialised adoption agencies, homes for mentally retarded boys, and rescue homes for boys and girls, in addition to educational institutions and religious establishments.
The LRPF’s request for an ED probe underscores the need for a thorough investigation into these allegations to ensure the proper utilisation of foreign funds and adherence to legal regulations, given the history of FCRA licence suspensions.
In a communication to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the Legal Rights Protection Forum (LRPF) has levelled serious allegations against the Tuticorin Diocesan Association, which has been accused of diverting funds meant for child welfare towards activities deemed “anti-national.” This diversion has raised questions about the association’s capacity and intent to genuinely support orphaned children.
According to the LRPF, significant funds intended for child welfare, particularly for orphaned children, have allegedly been redirected to support and strengthen Christian religious institutions. This diversion has left orphaned children in a state of deprivation, contrary to the donors’ noble intentions. The LRPF contends that this misuse of funds not only raises ethical concerns but also merits investigation as a potential economic offence.
Calls for NCPCR Action
The LRPF has urged the NCPCR to take immediate action by making recommendations to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and other relevant law enforcement agencies to initiate a case into this matter. They further propose the formation of a multi-disciplinary team comprising child welfare experts, chartered accountants, and law enforcement officials to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the activities of the Tuticorin Diocesan Association. The outcome of this investigation will help determine whether the NGO should retain its status as a registered society.
It is pertinent to mention here that,immediately after the anti-Sterlite Copper protest that turned violent and 13 killed when police opened fire to bring peace, The Organiser Weekly carried an exclusive report quoting from an interim report of Vedic Science Research Centre (VSRC). The report suggested a connection between left-wing extremist (LWE) organisations, Muslim fundamentalist organisations, Tamil secessionists, and various churches in influencing and guiding such movements.
The interim report from VSRC also highlighted the involvement of foreign entities in the protests against the nuclear power plant at Koodankulam in Thirunelveli District. The then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, acknowledged the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs in Thirunelveli and Thoothukudi Districts, primarily channelled through church-based NGOs, including the Tuticorin Diocesan Association and the Tuticorin Multipurpose Social Service Society.
These revelations have raised concerns about the broader context in which funds are being used by certain organizations and their potential impact on social and political issues in the region. The LRPF’s call for a thorough investigation underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the utilisation of funds intended for child welfare and related activities.
In a recent development, allegations of foreign funding and left-wing extremist (LWE) involvement in the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi have come to the forefront. The protests, sparked by the devastating Okchi cyclone, have raised questions about the source of funding, the motivations behind the demonstrations, and potential international connections. These claims have also shed light on the complexity of the situation, with political and social elements at play.
Foreign Funding and Support
The Church, following the Okchi cyclone, organized extensive protests across Kanyakumari District, demanding increased compensation for the victims and criticizing the Central Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for its perceived shortcomings in relief and rescue operations. During these protests, demonstrators occupied the railway tracks at Kuzhithurai Railway Station for an entire day, with the participation of opposition Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Notably, five out of six MLAs in Kanyakumari District are Christians.
The LRPF has claimed that the Kottar Diocese Association and Kottar Social Service Society, along with Mr. Jagath Gaspar of Tamil Maiyam, have provided financial support for these protests. Mr. Jagath Gaspar organized a fundraising event for Okchi cyclone victims in February 2018, with the involvement of Mr. D. Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev, the General Secretary of the State Bank Officers Association, who has been associated with left-wing student organisation Students Federation of India (SFI) during his college days. The LRPF suggests that this background provides him with the capability to negotiate with leftist forces.
Infiltration of Left-Wing Extremist Organisations
The LRPF report also highlights the infiltration of LWE organisations in the Ban Sterlite movement, which began in January 2018. The involvement of individuals belonging to the LWE organisation Makkal Athikaram, including Mr. Ari Raghavan, Vanchinathan, and Ramachandran, was documented in the Tamil magazine ‘Kumudam Reporter’ dated May 4, 2018. The magazine further reported the hurling of petrol bombs at the Sterlite Plant on April 25, 2018, along with statements from the police indicating that over 100 Naxals had infiltrated the movement.
The LRPF’s report suggests that LWE organisations have played a role in creating mistrust among villagers against the government. Left-wing extremism has extended its influence to villages around Thoothukudi, further complicating the situation. International involvement is also suspected, as Samarendra Dhas, associated with the Foil Vedanta group in London, reportedly visited Thoothukudi. He addressed a secret meeting in February or March, attended by leaders of the Ban Sterlite Movement. Additionally, an individual from Orissa participated in the meeting, as reported in the Deccan Chronicle on March 20, 2018.
The LRPF’s report alludes to the involvement of international organisations in the anti-Sterlite movement. It suggests that the Church of England, previously an investor in Vedanta, sponsors the group ‘Foil Vedanta.’ This raises questions about the international governance of the movement. The report also hints at the possibility of China’s involvement in the anti-Sterlite movement to maintain its monopoly in the copper smelting business.
One significant consequence of the Sterlite Plant’s closure is the substantial increase in global copper prices. This development appears to validate the claims made in the LRPF’s report, raising concerns about the broader implications of the protests and their influence on global markets.
These allegations and findings underscore the intricate nature of the anti-Sterlite protests, with a complex web of domestic and international factors at play. Investigations and further scrutiny are needed to shed light on the full extent of these allegations and their implications.