Wednesday, September 30 2020

Dive In

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Mukesh Ambani’s wealth dropped by 28% to Rs 3,50,000 crore and then backed by a series of fund raising and strategic investment from Facebook, Google, Silver Lake among others into Jio and Reliance Retail, his valuation improved by 85% in just a period of four months. Despite the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, the Reliance’s market cap crossed Rs 10 lakh crore and registered a 73% increase in Mukesh Ambani’s wealth.

That’s one of the key data points in the Hurun Report that lists the richest Indians with more than Rs 1000 crore. Yes, Mukesh Ambani is indeed #1—and by a mile! His total net worth is now larger than the combined wealth of the next five on the list. Ambani is Asia's richest individual and fourth richest man across the world. But here’s the stat that ought to make your jaw drop: Mukesh-bhai earned Rs 90 crore every 60 minutes since the lockdown in March. Illustration: Parth Savla

Big Story

Bure din for Indian NGOs

The TLDR: Amnesty International (AI) has decided to cease operations in India citing an “incessant witch-hunt” by the government. The latest move: The Enforcement Directorate froze the organisation’s bank accounts. But Amnesty’s exit is just the most visible effect of the government’s crackdown on foreign-funded non-profit organisations. The most damaging: three new rules that threaten the future of a great many NGOs—especially smaller ones operating at the grassroots.


What happened with Amnesty?

The organisation has been under investigation for improper use of foreign funds—which AI India strongly denies. On September 10, the ED froze all of its accounts, making it impossible for the organisation to continue operations. 


The law: As per the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, registered non-profits have to get permission to receive foreign donations. The law was put in place to ensure that foreign entities do not fund activities that are detrimental to our “national interest.” Some organisations get a license that can be renewed every five years—while others apply for permission on a case-by-case basis. In 2018-19, 21,490 NGOs declared funds received under the FCRA. 


The government’s claim: Amnesty did an end run around the FCRA requirements. 


  • Amnesty International UK transferred funds to a private entity Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd (AIIPL) by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment. That private entity then transferred those funds to three Amnesty-run NGOs. 
  • Amnesty India also directly received foreign funds without FCRA permission. 
  • This has nothing to do with politics since the UPA also blocked Rs 5 crore in foreign funds to Amnesty between 2010 and 2013.
  • Also this: “India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations.” Amnesty is free to continue its humanitarian work as long as it is not funded by outside entities.


Amnesty’s claim: The organisation raises its money entirely from Indians—four million of whom supported its work over the last eight years, while 100,000 donated money. The financial freeze is, in fact, punishment for the various human rights reports it has released. The organisation’s statement lays out “a chronology of attacks”:


  • In October, 2018, the ED conducted a ten-hour raid—following which its accounts were temporarily frozen.
  • In early 2019, the Income Tax department started sending letters to 30 donors: “Apparently, the department did not find any irregularities but the process adversely affected the fundraising campaigns of Amnesty International India.”
  • On 22 October 2019, Amnesty testified at a US Congressional hearing on human rights in Jammu and Kashmir. 
  • On 15 November 2019, its offices and the residence of one of its directors were raided again by the CBI.
  • In August, Amnesty released two reports—one to mark the anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir; the other on the police’s role during the Delhi violence. Both alleged serious human rights abuses.
  • On September 10, all its bank accounts were completely frozen.

In sum: The government is using the FCRA law to shut down inconvenient NGOs that criticise its actions.


Is that true?


In today’s edition

Headlines that Matter

  • A horrific gang rape in UP
  • WhatsApp may make your pics disappear
  • Only 7.1% of Indians have been exposed to the virus
  • Indian women do all the work


Smart and Curious

  • Ebisu may be the first known copycat in the world
  • A cool vid that shows you how folks create those crazy TikTok transitions
  • A seriously cool and comprehensive archive of Indian bird songs

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