A series of donations worth Rs 21 crore by a French arms company — the key weapons provider to Scorpene submarine and Rafale jets — to an Indian NGO have come under the scanner after income-tax raids on a New Delhi-based consultant in June.
The donations, earmarked for mobile medical units in Punjab and Rajasthan, were apparently made under the corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme of MBDA, the French arms manufacturer. Senior officials involved with investigations told ET that the matter has been referred to intelligence agencies for further probe.
These officials spoke on the condition they not be identified. “We are awaiting a detailed report before deciding on the next step,” said an official. The Scorpene deal with India is already in controversy after sensitive data on the Indian programme found its way into an Australian daily last week.
The NGO in question is Advantage India and its prominent backer is Deepak Talwar, a corporate consultant. The income-tax conducted searches on Talwar’s premises on June 22 following certain mentions in an earlier search on defence consultant Sanjay Bhandari.
MBDA has justified the donations, saying that there were only one part of several CSR activities in India which include scholarships for graduates and support for academic institutions. Officials said agencies were alerted on a tranche of money received from the French arms company from 2012-13. Incidentally, FCRA licence of the NGO — under which foreign contributions are allowed — was renewed in April.
The government has been actively scrutinising foreign contributions, seeking to find the purpose and destination of millions of dollars flowing in from foreign sources. Several NGOs have been asked to explain the purpose of the funds and FCRA licenses have also been cancelled.
The spokesperson for his NGO Advantage India Sanjay Mittal however confirmed that money was received from MBDA as part of its CSR fund. “We have nothing to hide. The NGO have been filing its FCRA and Income Tax details regularly. This was the first project with MBDA and they were very satisfied with our work which was primarily in health, education sectors and livelihood to underprivileged.” Mittal said.
When contacted, Talwar refused to comment on the issue. “I have nothing to say”, he told ET. Responding to queries from ET, MBDA said that the contributions were made for a concrete health care initiative and the funds given have been audited and declared to Indian authorities according to the law.
“Based on a concrete action plan, MBDA funded Advantage India to provide increased access to health care (free of cost) through Mobile Medical Units at village level and to promote health care through awareness generation about the preventive measures against diseases,” the company said.
It added that it has two other CSR initiatives, a scholarship program for aeronautical specialists and a design and development support plan for courses at Hindustan University (Chennai). “”In the frame of our longstanding partnership with India, MBDA decided some years ago to invest into India’s future through some CSR programs,” an MBDA spokesperson said.