Lifeline Express of Impact India Foundation: A Profile


Impact India Foundation (IIF), an International Initiative Against Avoidable Disablement established through a United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution, was launched by the Government of India on 2nd October 1983. Its aim is to act in partnership with the Government as a catalyst bringing together the corporate sector, Non Profit Organisations, professionals and the community in mass health projects of National priority, using existing delivery systems and available infrastructure. Today, Impact is active in fourteen countries under the banner of the International Federation of Impact Organisations (IFIO).

IIF’s vision is to catalyse  healthcare systems to make India disability-free by developing strong and replicable healthcare models through partnerships to reach India’s under-served population. The Lifeline Express (LLE): This has been ably demonstrated by the Indian Railways’ partnership with IIF which has enabled the Lifeline Express – the World’s First Seven-Coach Hospital Train donated by the Indian Railways – to conduct more than 1.43 lakh surgeries for the rural poor and medically benefit over one million patients – all free of cost – in the remote, Tribal and Naxalite-prone areas of our country: 199 projects conducted across 135 Districts in 20 States of the country, over 27 years.

The Lifeline Express  has so far provided medical services made possible by the “donated” services of about 200,000 medical professionals from India and abroad.  About ten Lifeline Express projects are held at remote railway stations every year; each halt for a period of a month to provide free-of-cost corrective surgeries: Cataracts, Hearing impairment, Cleft Lips & Post-Burn contractures, Post contracture releases of Polio, and Cerebral Palsy cases, Club Foot, the treatment of Epilepsy & Dental problems, as well as, the recently introduced Oral, Breast & Cervical Cancer, Prevention of Stroke, Family Planning & Health services. About 8000 persons benefit at each location. The Lifeline Express is a recipient of numerous accolades including the United Nations’ Grand Award for Excellence in Public Service and has been honoured by the Government of India with the release of a National Postage stamp. This programme has been replicated by four Lifeline Express trains in China, two in South Africa and Riverboat hospitals in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

1. BBC’s film on the Lifeline Express (LLE): “The Magic Train” v=TNqjOTx6nR0 . The film documents the 101st LLE project held at Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, in 2008 which medically served 6263 disabled rural poor persons.
2. BBC’s  ten-minute film on the Lifeline Express telecast in 2016:
3. Reuters news coverage of the Lifeline Express:
4.  SBS Australia TV telecast a film on August 28, 2018, on the LLE which covered the 193rd Lifeline Express at Latur, Maharashtra in June 2018 benefitting 10207 patients. Please click  on the You Tube link (or copy and paste on your browser window):
This film was re-telecast on Al Jazeera TV on October 21st evening.

The Community Health Initiative (CHI) – a sustainable, replicable model in partnership with the Government covering two million Tribals in rural Maharashtra – achieved, in its first phase (2005 to 2012), 72% reduction in disability in Thane District, using existing infrastructure and available delivery systems for sustainability. Please view “Rainbow of Hope”:
The programme has evolved into a well-integrated set of preventive interventions aimed at the holistic improvement of the health of the community, with specific focus on Reproductive, Maternal, Neo Natal and Child Health + Adolescent (RMNCH+A). The CHI’s current model focuses on Adolescent girls to break the cycle of malnutrition at the individual and inter-generational levels. Investing in their nutrition is a prerequisite to ensure adequate returns on investments made in their empowerment, education, livelihoods and as potential mothers. There are 113 million adolescent girls in India; about 56% of them are anaemic.
Another intervention is Maternal Nutrition Supplementation: Combined with Nutrition Education, Diet Supplementation and Counseling on Ante & Post Natal Care, the project monitors and improves outcomes of women’s pregnancy and lactation periods and their infants’ progress. Yet another project aims to strengthen the Government’s Anganwadi (Day Care Centre) systems to ensure children aged 0-5 years and mothers are malnutrition-free.

Professional Social Worker: Zelma Lazarus

Professional Social Worker

Zelma Lazarus

Zelma Lazarus is the Founder Director and Chief Executive Officer of Impact, a United Nations’ Inter-Agency Initiative, in association with the governments of each participating country. As General Manager Corporate Relations of Voltas Limited, a large Private Sector enterprise in India, she has had substantial experience in all aspects of public affairs. Her work experience is over 30 years.  Zelma was assigned by the House of Tata to the Government of India to establish the first Impact Foundation in India.  Based on Impact India’s experience, there are now 19 Impact Foundations in different countries worldwide.

Zelma was World President of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) for the year 1998; the first Asian Woman to head this prestigious organisation. IPRA constitutes the most genuinely international group of Public Relations Practitioners in 90 countries.  She is the Patron of Global Forum For Public Relations – an India International Association for Values and Ethics in Public Relations.

The basic prerequisite of Impact, which she leads successfully, is awareness. A nationwide communications package for India was therefore designed by her for a wide and diverse audience, from the slum dweller who is the potential beneficiary, to the industrialist who will financially support the programme.

Zelma was invited by the Government of India to become a member of the Planning Commissions Working Group on Health, Education and Communications for the preparation of the Seventh and Eighth Five-Year Plans for the country.

Zelma was commissioned by the Government of India to serve on the Film Censor Board.

Zelma has been on the world speakers’ circuit, delivering lectures at United Nations Headquarters, at various international seminars, universities and public platforms.   She has appeared on many live programmes on Television channels in many countries and several hundred articles have appeared about her in international dailies and journals including Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Elle, The Times (London).

Zelma has completed a Senior Management Course on “Leadership” at the Ashridge Management College, U.K., and has edited several publications worldwide.

Zelma is a winner of several awards:

The United Nations Award for Excellence in Public Service for the “Lifeline Project”

The “Woman of the Year” Award from Zonta International

The Rotary Club Public Award for Leadership in creating India’s first mobile Hospital Train

The Distinguished Golden World Trophy for Excellence in Internal Communications from IPRA in London; IPRA’s Golden World Trophies for Excellence in Consumer Affairs and again, for Excellence in Public Service worldwide.

  The prestigious Silver Bell Trophy at the PR World Congress for “The most outstanding PR Campaign in the country”

The PR Society of India’s National Award for the Gandhi Book Project

The Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Good Corporate Citizen Award

Gold Medal at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany

Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibilities by Association of Business Communicators of India (ABCI) in 2005.

Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Relations by Public Relations Society of India (PRSI) in 2007.

The Dr. K.R.Singh Memorial Life Time Achievement Award (PRCI Chanakya Awards 2014) by the Public Relations Council of India.

Lifetime Achievement Award by Exchange4Media at the India PR & Corporate Communications Awards 2014, and many more…

Throughout her career, Zelma Lazarus has been involved in the cause of the disabled. She has been the focal point in several unique projects to raise funds for the handicapped and was instrumental in bringing out the first Braille typewriter to be manufactured in India.

Lifeline Express is not Zelma’s but one of the worlds most talked about projects since it involved co-operation of various people, organisations and bureaucrats. The Lifeline Express is a special rake of five railway coaches specially adapted to serve as a mobile hospital, and thus able to reach anywhere on the railway map of India.

It is staffed by volunteers comprising some of the best surgeons and physicians of India, and is dedicated to tackling Polio, Cataract, Hearing Disability and Clefts. It is supported by advance teams that organise gather patients from surrounding areas before the arrival of the Mobile Hospital at its remote wayside stop.  The goodwill generated has astonished everyone. The Lifeline Express, with its mobility, and self-support capability, offers a unique opportunity to provide top quality medical services, free of cost, at any place in India.

This unique enterprise, with a commitment to offer relief to the suffering poor free of cost to fight preventable diseases, began its maiden voyage on its “Noble Venture”, in July 1991 from Victoria Station, Bombay (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai), with an enthusiastic send-off by its many well-wishers. Over the past several years it has served over a million disabled in rural India, restoring sight, hearing, movement, correction of facial deformities  and treatment for epilepsy and dental problems, and 200,000 medical persons from India and abroad including a large number of volunteers have donated their skills on the train, without charge.

Zelma would be the first to say that it took the combined efforts of a large number of people to make this possible. But everyone associated with this project agrees that the essential organizational skills and strength of purpose was provided by her. In every endeavour of this nature, there are difficulties on the way. Zelma Lazarus, though a modest individual, has that indispensable determination to ensure success. She has a unique capacity to make a difference in someone else’s life, and is blessed by many patients, located all over India, who have benefited.

The relevance of the Lifeline Express became evident immediately after the earthquake at Latur, Maharashtra a few years back, when it was diverted from its operations at Shankarapalli, about 200 kms. from the epicenter, and made the journey overnight, collecting supplies and relief volunteers, to supplement the sadly damaged and inadequate hospitals of Latur. Again, in 2001, it rushed to Gujarat to offer medical support to the earthquake stricken victims at the specific request of the Government of Gujarat, and stayed on for a period of six months as the only active hospital since the rest had crumbled in the earthquake.

In recognition of Impact India Foundation’s humanitarian work for the disabled poor of our country, the Government of India released a National Postage Stamp honouring the Lifeline Express and also a book titled “Creating Rainbows” – the Inspirational Journey of Impact India Foundation, on May 12, 2009, by His Excellency Shri S.C. Jamir, Governor of Maharashtra.  On this occasion a special message was received from the Prime Minister of India.

At the invitation of the Maharashtra Government, Impact India Foundation has launched a Community Health Initiative Project in the remote tribal areas of Thane district in the State of Maharashtra for the dramatic reduction in a number of disabilities affecting a population of one million persons.  The aim is to reduce or reverse the number of disabilities, by one half, through preventive and curative measures, bringing enormous benefits to the people.

June 20, 2017

Foreign Funding for Political Parties Welcome! No to N.G.Os!!

Fresh Differences Arise Between NGOs, Bloomberg and Government on Tobacco Control

Earlier this year, the Indian parliament amended the Finance Bill 2018 and the new amendment allowed political parties to accept foreign funding without scrutiny. In fact, it was a retrospective amendment which exempted parties from scrutiny for funds they received as far back as 1976.

But NGOs working in India’s health sector have been battling the government over this very same issue. Specifically speaking, NGOs working on tobacco control such as the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Institute of Public Health (IPH) have been embroiled in months of administrative logjam as their licenses to receive foreign funding were suspended, related to their work on tobacco control.

And the Bloomberg Foundation, which gives millions of dollars to health organisations around the world working on tobacco control, has also been investigated by Indian intelligence agencies. The two-year-old investigation has not yet reportedly shown any actual malpractice on the foundation’s part.

Now in a fresh conflict, another long standing NGO – Socio Economic and Educational Development Society (SEEDS) – funded by the Bloomberg Foundation to work on tobacco control, found itself suddenly isolated by the Delhi government. This was in November. Last week, they just as suddenly found themselves in the clear. The Delhi government has not issued any clarification on the turn around.

Bloomberg funded NGO prohibited from “any activity”

A Delhi government note in November called for the sweeping prohibition of “any activity” by NGOs, especially SEEDS, who get any international funding or who get funding form the Bloomberg Foundation, unless it is approved by the Delhi government.

Although the note is titled generally, it in fact is specifically about SEEDS and Bloomberg and says that SEEDS did not submit details of the project and its funding to the Delhi government for seven months.

The note was signed by S.K, Arora, Additional Director in the Delhi government and in charge of the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP). Within three weeks of this, Arora has been taken off the tobacco portfolio. Arora was designated tobacco control for many years, and won a World Health Organization award for his work this year.

In four weeks, Arora’s successor, Dr. Bhagwan Singh Charan, has overturned Arora’s order without giving any reason.

Dr Arora declined to comment on the matter as he is no longer handling this portfolio but said he is “demoralised” by his transfer and that he had only acted in the interest of “maintaining funding transparency so that good work done by anyone should not become questionable on any ground”. “It is shocking that no one is asking the NGO, why the project and funding details are not being shared,” he said.

Deepak Mishra who heads SEEDS contests this. He says that SEEDS had submitted details on their proposed activities to Arora’s office in April this year and followed up on this for six months, only to be told that these documents were misplaced.

Credit: Maritè Toledo/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Maritè Toledo/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“We are assisting state governments in Bihar and Jharkhand in implementing the national tobacco control programme. There, it is the chief secretary of the state who is also the head of the tobacco control committee. Those state governments have not been cutting ties with us because we receive foreign funding. Only Delhi government put forward these obstacles,” says Puranjit Banerjee, regional director at SEEDS.

In a letter to the principal secretary for health and family welfare of the Delhi government, SEEDS explains that they already are registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to receive foreign funds, and these funds are regulated by the ministry of home affairs. They explained that some details of funding are bound by a legal contract between Bloomberg and funding partners, so they may not immediately be available for sharing.

But the state government’s memo was wide reaching, naming and penalising SEEDS, in what the NGO sees as disproportionate, and a “defamation”.

A Delhi government source explains that an FCRA license doesn’t mean that SEEDS is exempt from sharing details on their funding and project with the local government.

Further, the “NGO has received funds in the name of the NTCP. So they cannot work on their own without collaboration with state governments,” says the source. The person explains that the state tobacco control cell still needs to sign a memorandum with NGOs like SEEDS in order to partner with them, and for that NGOs will have to part with all information on their funding.

The Bloomberg website says they are already working with the Delhi government but this is not true. Is Bloomberg not monitoring their funds?,” says the Delhi government source.

Health NGOs taking the hit for tobacco control

While the situation for SEEDS turned around quickly and in their favour, this has not been the case for public health NGOs in India over the last year who work on tobacco control.

SEEDS chose to take on the issue straight on and immediately, writing strong letters to the Delhi government, mincing no words in their complaint.

But other organisations like the PHFI and IPH have taken it more quietly and much slower. PHFI for example, submitted hundreds of pages of documents to the home ministry, and after about twelve months, they were re-awarded their FCRA license but not told why it was suspended in the first place. Although they have a license, their fund inflows are still subject to slow and lengthy regulation. IPH has also chosen to tackle the issue quietly, taking up a legal challenge which has itself not progressed fast.

Various other smaller NGOs have suspended their work on tobacco control, dissolving staff positions and projects.

NGO Celebrates Christmas with Slum Children


What is Christmas, why it is celebrated and how it is celebrated; was the teaching, during the celebrations organized by Disha NGO at Chandigarh, for the underprivileged children of kaimbwala and Kansal villages, here today.

Disha NGO is preparing Non – School going girls from the parents working as care takers, gardeners, sweepers, etc; for admission to the nearest schools.

The children at the Disha Centre were thrilled today when gifts like Woolen Sweaters, Woolen lowers, socks and caps were given to them curtsey Josan Heights(Builders) Kharar; Hotel Diplomat, Shimla and Snacks Curtsey Nik Bakers, the Lite batter and Nikamal Jewelers. The Prominent social workers Sh. Vinod Mittal of Nik Bakers, Smt. Simrit Josan of Josan Heights, Smt. Jatinder Kaur of Hotel Diplomat Shimla, Smt. Veena Jain of Nikamal Jewelers, Dr. Sudha Banth of the Lite Batter (Bakers) Smt. Rakesh,Smt. Yogita Kapoor, Parnish Shiv Dhiman and others joined in the cultural extravaganza.


WhatsApp has a big child pornography problem, NGOs find details of many groups spreading it on chat app.



WhatsApp is used for many things but of late one of the most nefarious uses of the app has been to use it to spread child pornography. In India we have seen in the past WhatsApp groups being busted for sharing objectionable photos of children, but now it seems that the problem is global in nature. An NGO in Israel has found that the end-to-end encryption offered by WhatsApp apparently allows many on the chat app to form private groups where people share child pornography.

Despite researchers bringing the problem of child porn to the notice of WhatsApp before, two Israeli NGOs have discovered that the WhatsApp chat groups are being openly used to spread child porn.

It’s important to note that sharing or storing child pornography is illegal in India. It is an offence punishable by jail term and hefty fines.

According to a Financial Times report, the researchers spotted “extensive child abuse material” on the WhatsApp chat groups earlier this year. The NGOs reported these materials to Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, in September but many of these groups are still reportedly active.

As per the report, WhatsApp has smart scanning techniques to keep an eye on users or groups that participate in the sharing of illegal content and it bans thousands of accounts in a day. However, findings have revealed WhatsApp groups with names like “child porn only no adv” or “cp- an abbreviation for child porn” that makes the nature of the group evident.

WhatsApp made its platform end-to-end encrypted in 2016. The company says that feature adds a blanket of security over every call, message including group chats, photo, video, file, voice message, including group chats. The feature is to provide security against any potential cyber threats, hacking or snooping. But WhatsApp on its blog mentions that the same feature refrains WhatsApp also from accessing messages that are suspected to have such vile content.

The videos and pictures of child sexual abuse were discovered by the Israeli researchers on WhatsApp group which were easy to find and join. WhatsApp’s group invite link feature is used by these malicious users to increase the number of members of such illegal groups. The invite link feature was also introduced in late 2016 by the chat app and it makes to easier to discover and join groups. But the same feature is being used by some people to join groups that share illegal content.

According to a Tech Crunch report, several of the third-party apps that are used to discover WhatsApp groups have Adult sections in them that offer invite links to join groups that share illegal content.

Not just foreign countries, cases of child porn being shared on WhatsApp have been reported in India as well. To recall, the cyber cell of Madhya Pradesh, in April this year, had busted an international WhatsApp group that was suspected to be sharing content on child porn. Reportedly people from more than 25 countries including India were a part of that group.

In India, it is illegal to share or even watch child pornography. In case someone found sharing or hosting child pornography, the person can be punished with jail term of up to 7 years and can be fined thousands of rupees. Recently, the government came out with new rules — likely to be approved by cabinet soon and notified — that mandates that if someone comes across child pornography in a WhatsApp group or in a message, the person will have to inform authorities about it and will have to immediately delete such objectionable and illegal content.