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

 

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.

Trump Foundation to shut down – One Law for all U S N G Os, unlike India!

The Donald J. Trump Foundation, once billed as the charitable arm of the president’s financial empire, agreed to dissolve on Tuesday and give away all its remaining assets under court supervision as part of an ongoing investigation and lawsuit by the New York attorney general.

The foundation was accused by the attorney general, Barbara Underwood, of “functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” and of engaging in “a shocking pattern of illegality” that included unlawfully coordinating with Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

In addition to shuttering the charity, her office has pursued a lawsuit that could bar President Trump and his three oldest children from the boards of other New York charities, as well as force the payment of millions in restitution and penalties.

“This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone,” Ms. Underwood said in announcing the agreement.

The closure of the foundation is a milestone in what has been a two-year investigation after the nonprofit’s management and giving patterns emerged as a flash point in the 2016 campaign. What assets remain after penalties will be directed to charities that must be approved by the attorney general’s office, and the process will be subject to judicial supervision.

Ms. Underwood and a lawyer for the Trump foundation signed the stipulation agreeing to the dissolution.

“We’ll continue to move our suit forward,” Ms. Underwood said, “to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law.”

Nonprofit foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities. But the attorney general’s office has charged that the Trump Foundation was used to win political favor, accusing the foundation of virtually becoming an arm of the Trump campaign, with its campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, directing the foundation to make disbursements in Iowa only days before the state held its presidential nominating caucuses.

“Is there any way we can make some disbursements [from the proceeds of the fund-raiser] this week while in Iowa? Specifically on Saturday,” Mr. Lewandowski wrote to the foundation’s treasurer in an email disclosed in the lawsuit.

Mr. Trump was required to sign annual filings with the Internal Revenue Service in which he attested that the foundation did not engage in political activity.

The president had said after the 2016 election that to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, he would dissolve the foundation. But the attorney general’s office blocked him from doing so amid concerns about the handling of the foundation’s documents and assets.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, refused to comment on the dissolution of the Trump Foundation, saying, “That’s something that I would refer you to the Trump Organization.”

Mr. Trump has long claimed that all the foundation’s money went to “wonderful charities” that had legitimate purposes. Alan S. Futerfas, a lawyer for the foundation, accused Ms. Underwood of making a “misleading statement” on Tuesday in “a further attempt to politicize this matter.”

“The foundation has been seeking to dissolve and distribute its remaining assets to worthwhile charitable causes since Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election,” he said. “Unfortunately, the N.Y.A.G. sought to prevent dissolution for almost two years, thereby depriving those most in need of nearly $1.7 million.”

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Ms. Underwood, said the Trump foundation had previously wanted to dissolve without any oversight. “That was unacceptable,” she said.

The investigation of the foundation was begun by the former attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat who was an antagonist of Mr. Trump before stepping down following revelations of sexual misconduct this year.

Next month, the ongoing case will fall to the incoming attorney general, Letitia James, a vocal critic of Mr. Trump who said recently that she would “use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family.”

Ms. Underwood’s office sued the Trump Foundation in June, charging it with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”

[Want to know more about the Trump Foundation? Read this explainer.]

Charities are barred from advancing the self-interests of its executives over the charity’s mission, but the attorney general’s office said in a court filing this year that the foundation had entered into a number of “prohibited self-dealing transactions that directly benefited Mr. Trump or entities that he controlled.”

The Trump Foundation, for instance, purchased a $10,000 portrait of Mr. Trump that was displayed at one of his golf clubs. The existence of the portrait, along with other examples of questionable spending cited in the lawsuit, was first reported by The Washington Post.

One transaction was revealed by a note in Mr. Trump’s handwriting that said $100,000 of Trump Foundation money should be directed to another charity to settle a legal dispute between the Town of Palm Beach and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Mr. Trump was once a major donor to his own foundation. But in the six years before his presidential run, from 2009 to 2014, Mr. Trump stopped giving his own money, relying instead solely on outside donations.

The attorney general’s office is seeking for the Trump Foundation to pay $2.8 million in restitution, which is the amount raised for the foundation at an Iowa fund-raiser in 2016 that Mr. Trump held on the day that he avoided attending a debate with his Republican rivals. The foundation reported $1.7 million in assets in 2017 to the I.R.S.

Last month, a New York state judge ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, even as Mr. Trump’s lawyers had argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump, as president, and that the statute of limitations had passed on some of the issues.

“I find I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump,” Justice Saliann Scarpulla wrote in a 27-page ruling.

Mr. Futerfas had said in a statement then that “all of the money raised by the Foundation went to charitable causes” and that “we remain confident in the ultimate outcome of these proceedings.”

“I won’t settle this case!” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter in June, accusing “the sleazy New York Democrats” of targeting him.

The foundation lawsuit follows years of scrutiny of President Trump’s charitable activities and adds to his extensive legal challenges, amid a continuing investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The Trump Foundation is hardly the first charity dissolved by the state — Mr. Schneiderman previously shut down a sham breast cancer charity, for example — but it is the first involving a sitting president of the United States.

Also, if the attorney general’s office is successful in barring Mr. Trump from serving on foundation boards for a decade, it would put him in the unusual position of not being able to serve on the board of his own post-presidential foundation, should it be set up in New York.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a spokeswoman for the New York attorney general. She is Amy Spitalnick, not Spitalnik.

Good Health Campaign Started Today

With the onset of winter, Heart Care becomes more important; since a large number of heart ailments get aggravated during cold weather.

The Centre for Social Work, Panjab University; Disha NGO and Kare Partners begin the season’s campaign for Heart Care, at Ashiana School Sector 46 Chandigarh under the leadership of Dr. Monica Singh, HOD of the Department and Ms. Simrit Josan, President of Disha NGO, along with a team of Senior Doctors from kare Partners.

Over 75 persons were screened during the camp with free tests and given free consultation. The team of MSW Students from Panjab University coordinated and managed the conduct of the camp.

Several more such camps are proposed by Disha NGO, during the coming Cold Season.