‘Took data by cloning server, phones’: NGO Oxfam India on tax searches
“The past eight months have been distressing for Oxfam India,” a statement said.
Think tank Centre for Policy Research and the Indian arm of global NGO Oxfam said they were compliant with domestic laws and have extended all cooperation to Income Tax authorities who surveyed their premises this week as part of an FCRA probe.
The tax department launched the survey operation on September 7 against about six such organisations in the country and sources close to PTI had said the taxman looked at their balance sheets vis-a-vis the receipt of funds via the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
Sources said the analysis of the documents was continuing and the department may question some executives of these organisations in the coming days.
“The Income Tax Department visited our office to undertake a survey of CPR on September 7 and 8. We have extended full cooperation to the department during the survey and will continue to do so in the future.
“We hold ourselves to the highest standards of compliance and are confident that we have done nothing wrong. We are committed to working with the authorities to address any questions they might have,” the Delhi-based think tank said in a statement.
Yamini Aiyar, the president and chief executive, said the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) remains “committed to our mission to provide rigorous research to policy making in India.” According to law, all NGOs receiving foreign funds have to be registered under the FCRA.
The government has cancelled the FCRA registration of nearly 1,900 NGOs for violating various provisions of the law in the last five years. There were 22,762 FCRA-registered organisations till December-end 2021.
Oxfam also issued a statement saying it is a “law-abiding and community-centric” organisation.
The officials conducted a ‘survey’ at Oxfam India’s Delhi office from September 7 noon to the early hours of September 9, it said.
“During these 35-plus hours of non-stop survey, Oxfam India team members were not allowed to leave the premises; the Internet was shut down and all the mobile phones were confiscated.
“The Income Tax survey team took away hundreds of pages of data pertaining to finances and programs of Oxfam India. They also took all the data by cloning the Oxfam India server and the private mobile phones of the senior leadership team and the finance lead,” Oxfam said.
While the team conducting the survey was polite and professional; the process of a survey with such sweeping powers and broad ambit resulted in “disappointing” Oxfam India, it said.
A spokesperson said Oxfam was “compliant” with Indian laws and has filed all its statutory compliances, including Income tax and FCRA returns, in a timely manner since its inception.
“This Income Tax survey was undertaken without giving a reason. Oxfam India has cooperated with the Income Tax department during this survey and is committed to doing so in the future,” it said.
In January 2022, “we also had a detailed week-long audit of the FCRA accounts by the auditors appointed by the FCRA division,” Oxfam added.
“We are guided by the principle of creating lasting solutions to address the injustice of poverty, to leave no one behind, and to end discrimination and create a free and just society. Oxfam India believes this is our constitutional duty as an organisation, irrespective of obstacles and hurdles in the path,” it said.
The past eight months have been distressing for Oxfam India. In December 2021, the renewal of the FCRA licence was denied by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Despite this, Oxfam India was conducting one of the largest civil society responses to the Covid crisis across 16 states in India, Oxfam said.
The I-T survey and MHA’s refusal to renew Oxfam India’s FCRA registration will not reduce our commitment to serve the vulnerable communities in the country and uphold values enshrined in the Indian Constitution, it said.