I-T dept revokes tax exemption status of 4 NGOs, letters to two mention protests against Adani

The tax exemption for Oxfam India, CARE India, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment and Environics Trust has been revoked.

WrittenBy:Sumedha Mittal
Date:
Logos of the four NGOs.
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The Income Tax department has revoked the tax exemption status of four non-government organisations – Oxfam India, CARE India, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, and Environics Trust, Newslaundry learned from sources and top officials linked to these organisations. The tax exemption was reportedly revoked about two weeks ago.

This comes after leading public policy think tank Centre for Policy Research’s tax exemption was axed in July.

For Oxfam India and Environics Trust, at least one reason for the revocation of their tax exemption was linked to Adani Group – as listed in the IT department’s letters to the two NGOs. These reasons concerned the alleged “non-alignment” of the NGOs’ activities with its “objectives”. Newslaundry examined the two letters. 

Adani connection 

The I-T department accused Oxfam India of being “involved in the activity of submission to UN Global Impact to delist Adani Ports, which is not as per the objects of the assessee”. 

Whereas, in the letter to Environics Trust, the department accused the trust of collaborating with the Mineral Inheritors Right Association “for protesting against Jindal Steel Work Protest in Odisha and Adani Coal Projects in Odisha” and stated that it was “not as per the objects of the Trust”. 

‘Involvement in protests’ among other reasons 

The other reasons cited in the I-T department’s letter to Oxfam were that the NGO was “involved in questioning the integrity of the government and discussing political issues in the meeting, which do not align with the objects of the assessee”. 

It also alleged that the organisation was “working for the benefit of a particular community.” 

Oxfam India’s website says that the non-profit works to “ensure that Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, and informal sector workers, especially women and girls, have safe-violence free lives with freedom to speak their mind, equal opportunities to realise their rights, and a discrimination free future”. 

In the letter to Environics Trust, another reason listed was that the trust was “involved in Dhinkia protests against JSW Plants”.  In 2021, residents of Odisha’s Dhinkia village started a protest against the transfer of over 1,000 hectares of land to Jindal Steel Works for setting up a 13.2 million tonnes steel plant unit. 

Newslaundry could not access the IT department’s letters to Care India and LIFE. 

But a top official at CARE India confirmed to Newslaundry that their tax exemption has been revoked. They did not divulge any specific reasons stated by the IT department for the move “fearing backlash”. 

“We do not understand why the government is after us. For so long, we have worked closely with the state government under Memorandum of Understanding. Like a primary education project in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, health projects in all districts of Bihar. And during Covid-19 we have also refurbished hospitals in Gorakhpur and Covid rehabilitation centre and oxygen plants in Lucknow,” the CARE official said.  

Ritwick Dutta, managing trustee of LIFE, also confirmed the development to Newslaundry. Notably, an I-T report had earlier accused Dutta of opposing overseas projects led by Indian entities, including the Adani Group. 

He said LIFE was “currently studying the options and have no specific comments to make”. 

However, top officials at Environics Trust said it is likely to challenge the Income Tax order in the court coming week. Ramamurthi Sreedhar, earth scientist and member of the core working team at the trust, told us, “The same Income Tax department had renewed our tax exemption status in 2021.” 

He further said, “At that time also, our objectives mentioned that we provide assistance to communities to redress injustices and uphold their rights. And we are doing the same work now. I think the order has nothing to do with our behaviour as an organisation. It is just that raising questions against the industries in India has become illegal now.”  

Officials at Oxfam India refused to comment on the development.  

Raids, suspension of FCRA licence  

In September 2022, the IT department had surveyed the offices of Oxfam India, Care India, Life, Environics, Centre for Policy Research and Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation.  

A top official at CARE India told Newslaundry, “This raid was a part of a plot by the government. As part of a tax survey in 2022, they seized our computers and laptops, kept our staff locked in the Delhi office for 72 hours. Our staff was not allowed to go out. And not just Delhi, but our offices in Mumbai and Surat were also raided.” 

In 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs did not renew Oxfam’s licence under the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act. Almost a year later, in April 2022, the Central Bureau of Investigation accused the NGO of violating the conditions of its foreign funding licence and attempting to “pressure the Union government to renew the licence by using foreign governments and institutions”. 

In June 2023, CARE India’s FCRA licence was suspended over the alleged violations of the Act. In the run-up to it, the MHA had also suspended LIFE’s FCRA licence for using foreign contributions to “target and stall” coal projects and “it impacts economic security of India”.  Environics Trust’s FCRA was also suspended in March this year. 

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