PHFI may get to receive foreign aid with riders

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NEW DELHI: The Union home ministry is likely to allow Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a key beneficiary of grants/donations from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation until PHFI’s registration under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) was cancelled last year, to receive foreign contributions through the prior permission route. However, this will be on the pre-condition that the PHFI has a mechanism for reporting its affairs to the health ministry with whose grant it was set up in 2006 and with whom it has partnered several public health initiatives.

PHFI’s registration to receive foreign funding was cancelled in April last year over alleged FCRA violations that included using foreign contributions to lobby media, parliamentarians and government on tobacco control policy issues; non-declaration of all its bank accounts; and making remittances to foreign countries from its FCRA account.

PHFI has since been in talks with the government to review its FCRA ban, citing its impact on several public health initiatives it had been running in partnership with the Central and state governments. According to a source, PHFI received an average foreign funding of Rs 100 crore until it was banned under FCRA. It’s foreign contributions were nearly Rs 150 crore in 2014-15 and Rs 200 crore in 2013-14. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for nearly one-third of its foreign funding, USAID for around 10%, while the remaining donors included some leading western pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline.

As per discussions within the home ministry, the ministry may invoke Section 46 of the FCRA, 2010, to direct PHFI to report to the health ministry on a regular basis. Under this FCRA provision, the government may give such directions as it may deem necessary to any other authority or any person or class of persons regarding the carrying into execution of FCRA provisions.

Though the health ministry had provided a grant to set up PHFI, with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself presiding over its launch in March 2006, the outfit has over the years evaded coming under radar of the health ministry and was seen as cosying up to the big foreign pharmaceutical companies. “The ‘funder recipient rule’ makes it incumbent upon PHFI to report to the health ministry. The parameters and contours of the reporting mechanism may be determined by the health ministry,” said a government official.

Once the reporting mechanism is in place, the home ministry will consider individual applications from PHFI seeking prior nod for receiving foreign funding for its programmes and initiatives. “The nod will be given on a case to case basis,” the official said adding that there is no plan as of now to allow it fresh registration under FCRA.

The April 10, 2017 home ministry order revoking renewal of FCRA licence of PHFI granted on August 4, 2016, had listed seven alleged violations on part of the public health advocacy group including declaring only six of its 151 bank accounts, wrongful declaration of Rs 43 crore received for anti-tobacco lobbying and making remittances of Rs 22 crore to foreign countries from its FCRA account.

Stating that omissions of the PHFI and its associates had come to its adverse notice for diversion of funds and “undesirable activities”, the home ministry had declared the renewal of its FCRA registration as void from the start.

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