Irregularities and misappropriations: Some high-profile ‘activists’ whose crowdfunding drives have faced controversy

by crypto journalist

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Fundraising platforms and people seeking funds from the public are both aplenty nowadays. There are several fundraising portals that provide an option to collect funds for social work, such as Ketto, Donatekart and others. While a lot of good comes out of fundraisers, there have been instances where the funding seekers got into soup for allegedly misusing the funds. Here is a list of top controversial fundraisers that raised funds and eyebrows at the same time.

Saket Gokhale and his fundraiser that he said was his ‘salary’

Saket Gokhale emerged on the social media platforms claiming to be a ‘crusader’ against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, RSS and BJP. He projected himself as an RTI activist and expressed his desire to ‘bring change’ in society by ‘exposing government’. In 2019, Gokhale launched a fundraiser and claimed he wanted to do RTI activism full time, and for that, he asked for support from his fellow liberals. He managed to raise lakhs of rupees for the alleged activism.

Gokhale tweeted a link to his crowdfunding platform asking people to cough up money because he chose to give up his ‘cushy job’ to ‘fight the BJP/RSS’, which he usually did with filing frivolous RTIs which cost Rs 10. He urged other Modi haters to assemble and pay him so he could pay his bills and not have to take up a regular job. At that time, he promised that he would give an account of every paisa he raised via fundraisers.

Gokhale submitted several RTIs and projected he was doing what he was paid for. However, as time passed by, his RTIs allegedly did not have any impact that the donors had anticipated. He raised several accusations against leaders and their family members that turned out to be ballooned up out of proportion.

One of the fine examples was the allegations raised against IFS officer Lakshmi Puri, wife of union minister Hardeep Singh Puri. He alleged she bought a house worth $2.5 million in Switzerland, for which the couple did not have enough legitimate sources of income. During the hearing of the defamation case filed against him by Lakshmi Puri, the court slammed Gokhale for his defamatory tweets against a former diplomat without any due diligence.

Then came the time when visibly Congress supporter, who donned his profile image with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on social media platforms, joined politics. From all the parties, he chose Trinamool Congress. More eyebrows were raised, and finally, on January 1, he announced that he was not obliged to give “audited accounts” for his monthly living expenses. He has since claimed that the money he had raised from crowdfunding is his ‘salary’.

Rana Ayyub and the curious case of returning foreign funds

Rana Ayyub, another habitual fake news peddler who writes Islamist propaganda, had projected herself as the messiah of the poor and marginalized during the pandemic.

In the now-closed fundraisers on Ketto, Rana Ayyub had asked people to donate money for her cause. Interestingly, she was not associated with any NGO. Also, being a journalist, as per the FCRA guidelines, she cannot raise foreign funds. However, in her fundraising campaigns, foreign donations were accepted.

Her first fundraiser was successful, so she launched another one during the second wave of Covid-19, which was again successful. She managed to collect more than one crore rupees in donations and often published photographs of herself donating food and other necessary items to the needy.

But there was a catch. As per the fundraising platform guidelines, the campaign organizer is responsible for paying taxes and getting all required documentation. However, she appeared to get paid by the fundraising platform without submitting the FCRA documents in the first case.

After the second fundraiser, objections were raised on a social media platform, and she had to return the foreign funding. She alleged that she tried to associate with an NGO to route the foreign funds but could not. She also alleged that the government was using her “charity work” to target her. At one point, Ketto had to come forward and issue a statement that her fundraiser was under probe.

Jignesh Mevani

In May 2021, Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani backed a fundraiser launched by ‘We The People Charitable Trust’. After raising some funds under the name, complaints were raised against him as another NGO by the name ‘We The People Charitable Society’ had already existed.

The charity commissioner has pointed out that an NGO already existed under the name ‘We The People Charitable Society’ and demanded to know why action should not be taken against the Trust for registering itself under a name very similar to the one that already existed.

Eventually, the accounts linked to the NGO were frozen by the authorities. Mevani, on the other hand, alleged there was something wrong with the intentions of the authorities, and there was nothing wrong with the NGO. Notably, politicians cannot raise foreign funds under FCRA regulations.

The Shehla Rashid and Deepika Singh Rajawat fiasco

Former JNU student, politician and alleged activist Shehla Rashid in association with controversial lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat ran a fundraiser campaign in 2018, claiming they were collecting money for the Kathua Rape victim. She raised lakhs for the family of the victim, and everything was looking good from the above. However, media reports suggested that the funds that were collected for the victim’s family never reached them.

Notably, one of the main activists of the campaign, Talib Hussain, was later arrested on rape charges and was sent to jail. Shehla gave multiple excuses to prove her innocence such as opening a joint account was difficult due to lack of Aadhaar card, the money was collected by them as there was no way to directly transfer funds to the victim’s family’s account or the family had refuted the media reports. But her claims were systematically shattered by the netizens. The reporter who broke the story first, stood by her statement and claimed she had recordings of the family members alleging they never got the money.

Interestingly, Deepika Singh Rajawat has joined Congress and currently serving as Spokesperson of the Jammu & Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee. It is noteworthy that Rajawat was fired by the victim’s family alleging she did not appear for the court hearings. Reports suggested she only attended two out of 110 hearings.

Shehla Rashid was also a part of the Jammu & Kashmir People’s movement, a political party that was floated by IAS officer Shah Faesal.

Teesta Setalvad and accusations of embezzling money meant for Godhra riot victims

Another noteworthy mention in this list is of Teesta Setalvad, a full-time aandolanjeevi. She has been accused of financial fraud and embezzling money meant for Godhra riot victims. In 2015, accusations were levelled against her for misusing funds that tuned to approx 1.51 crores collected for the Godhra riot victims.

Reports suggested that one of her trusts violated FCRA laws. Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Limited (SCPPL), with which Teesta is associated, received $ 2.9 lakh from Ford Foundation as a grant to “address communalism, caste-based discrimination in India, including media strategies”. Notably, unlike the Sabrang Trust, the SCPPL was not registered under FCRA, hence not eligible to receive foreign funds.

CBI conducted searches at her residence and offices in connection to the case. The Gujarat Police said that Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand had spent money collected for constructing a memorial for riot victims and their aid on personal expenses that included wine and liquor, expensive mobile phones, movie CDs, romantic novels, hair-styling, dining, among other avenues. According to the police, the two committed “colossal fraud”.

Further investigation revealed that out of the funds Sabrang Trust received between 2009-13, 45% were transferred to Setalvad and her husband’s account either directly or through SCPPL. It also said that she drew a salary of Rs. 8.75 lakhs and flew 113 times in a year.

Among her many FCRA related issues, it was discovered that Rs 1 lakh was allegedly transferred to a domestic account, which is considered as misutilisation of funds. Furthermore, 65% of the foreign funds were spent on administrative expenses, something that is not allowed as per law.

Setalvad and others were booked under Sections 13 (1)(D) and 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act as well as under Sections 120 B, 153 A, 153 B, 406, 409 and 420 of the IPC in 2018.

Alleged ‘environment activist’ Licypriya Kangujam’s fundraiser

So-called child-environment activist Licypriya Kangujam, who was often called ‘Greta of India’, had started a fundraiser during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. She got herself associated with Delhi-based NGO Noble Citizen Foundation and raised over 75 lakhs for oxygen cylinders and concentrators. However, there were several problems with the campaign. First of all, FCRA regulations were not followed which collecting donations. The NGO that was supposed to collect funds did not have an FCRA license.

The company that the ‘activist’, or rather her father who used her name and identity for his activities, used to allegedly purchase oxygen concentrators had no links to purchasing medical equipment. Moreover, the founders of the NGO were old associates of Licypriya’s father that raised more questions. After her father was arrested for duping hundreds of students, her fundraiser also came under the radar, and a probe was initiated against it.

Foreign funding and irregularities

From Khalistani sympathizers of Hemkunt Foundation and Khalsa Aid to funds raised by people for travel and studies abroad, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Notably, the government of India recently cancelled FCRA licenses of over 6,000 NGOs. Thousands of licences were cancelled over the past seven years, including that of Amnesty India, OXFAM and Jamia Milia Islamia.

This content was originally published here.

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