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PRESS STATEMENT OF RANA AYYUB Date: 11.02.2022
The outbreak of Covid 19 in 2020 exposed the most vulnerable and marginal people to the horrors of disease, hunger and poverty. In April 2020, June 2020 and then in May 2021, I started fundraisers on the Ketto platform to aid in providing respite to the most vulnerable and affected people with food grains, ration, and medical assistance.
To start the COVID 19 fundraiser on their platform Ketto asked me to furnish details of two bank accounts where donations would be transferred. I then explored whether it was possible for Ketto to directly transfer the funds to the grain vendors who were going to provide the supplies for the relief work. However, as the vendors were all required to submit various documents to Ketto, the process could not take off. My personal bank account could not be used at that time as Ketto required the physical copy of my PAN card to be furnished immediately, which at that time was unavailable. In these circumstances, as I thought that aid to Covid 19 ravaged families should not be delayed, I gave Ketto the details and documents relating to my father and sister’s bank accounts.
I started raising funds and the relief work was well reported by various media outlets. I also posted updates not just about the relief work but also of the funds raised through my social media posts. I was also aware that a part of the money was donated to the relief campaign by Muslims in India in the month of Ramadan, presumably as Zakaat. As a practicing Muslim, I understand the sanctity of Zakaat and its intended use for those in need.
During this relief work, I contracted Covid myself and was admitted to hospital as my oxygen levels dropped. My team of volunteers engaged in Covid relief work was also not spared by the virus, and unfortunately, two of my local volunteers succumbed to COVID as the virus was at its peak, and consequently we had to temporarily halt the relief work. I resumed relief work as and when I could. However, as I was personally involved in the relief work, due to the constant lifting and distribution of relief materials, I suffered a slipped disc and underwent a subsequent spine surgery in January 2021, that rendered me immobile. Just as I recovered and gained mobility, the second wave of COVID struck India and people started urging me on social media to help as many as possible, including in building a makeshift Covid hospital. I started the relief work again and also started talking to NGOs to set up a medical covid facility, including to a medical facility introduced to me by Ketto.
As per Ketto’s procedure, all donors to my campaigns made donations to Ketto’s bank account, which after deducting processing charges, would forward the same for the relief campaign to the designated 2 bank accounts, who in turn would then transfer the entire amount received from Ketto to my bank account. It is pertinent that no foreign donations were received by me or the 2 designated bank accounts, as all the donations were received first in Ketto’s bank account, who would send the amount for the relief campaign to the designated accounts in Indian currency. My instructions to Ketto were that any money received in foreign currency, should be returned back to the donor, and the relief work was carried out with only domestic contributions.
From June 2021 onwards, I received several notices from the Income Tax Department. I responded to all queries with detailed answers supported by documents, bills, invoices and bank records. I also made a formal request to the CBDT not to tax the donations received for relief work as I was not a beneficiary of those amounts, so that the entire donated amount can be utilized for relief work. The Income Tax Department, by an Order dt. 07.08.2021, decided to treat the donations as my “income” and provisionally attached my father’s bank account, my bank account and a Fixed Deposit in MY same bank account which was created towards setting up of a field hospital for Covid patients. However, after multiple visits to the Income Tax office submitting all documents in substantiation, the authorities decided to de-freeze my bank account and my father’s bank account on 06th September, 2021, except for the Fixed Deposit. I was also asked to pay income tax on the donation amount, which I have paid to the tune of INR. 1.05 Crores (about 10.05 million rupees) as directed by the Income Tax authorities. It was also informally communicated to me that if I give up my right to appeal against the order to levy tax on the donations, then the IT authorities would also de-freeze the Fixed Deposit. I have filed an appeal against the imposition of the tax on money that ought to have been used for relief work and was not my income. My appeal against the imposition of tax before the Income Tax Appellate Authority is pending. On 07.02.2022, I have received a communication from the IT authorities in Mumbai, that my Fixed Deposit has been released from attachment, stating that I am “allowed to operate the same”.
While the Income Tax proceedings were ongoing, simultaneously I was also summoned by the Directorate of Enforcement, Mumbai Zonal Office, which initiated proceedings against me under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). I again submitted all my documents, bills, invoices, bank statements and whatever the authorities asked of me, and by end of 2021, the FEMA investigation of the Directorate of Enforcement, Mumbai Zonal Office, seems to have ended without any finding or order against me. I was orally informed that the Mumbai Zonal Office is no longer inquiring into the relief campaign.
Despite 2 rounds of scrutiny of my relief work related documents by two different statutory authorities, the ordeal continued when in December 2021, I received summons from the Directorate of Enforcement, Delhi Zonal-II Office, this time under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). I presented myself to the authorities and once again shared all information that was asked of me. To my surprise, the questioning was focused more on my journalistic income, particularly from foreign media houses and was made to share my contracts and communications with them. I nevertheless answered all questions comprehensively and substantiated the same with documents. It was during the course of being questioned by the ED in Delhi, that I learnt that the entire PMLA proceedings were triggered by the FIR registered in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh by a member of the Hindu IT Cell in August, 2021. The FIR, a copy of which was accessed by me from social media, alleges that I have violated FCRA regulations by accepting foreign money, an allegation refuted by my bank statements which demonstrate that I received no foreign donations, and in any event, all foreign donations received by Ketto were returned to the donors by Ketto. The exact same allegation, as is made in this FIR, was the basis for the FEMA proceedings by the Mumbai Zonal Office of the ED, which has since not been pursued after I answered all queries and submitted all documents. I maintain that since I received no foreign contribution as defined under the FCRA, and any income received from foreign sources is on account of my professional fee which is permissible under the FCRA law, I have not committed any offence under the FCRA and the FIR registered by UP Police on such allegations is totally baseless.
In my three public campaigns undertaken on Ketto, I had raised a total of INR. 2,69,44,679 (about 26.9 million). I have provided all bills and invoices for the relief work undertaken by me, which is to the tune of 40 lakhs / 4 million rupees (40,45,644 /- to be precise). The experience of Covid showed that there was an urgent need to supplement the existing medical infrastructure. My efforts to set up a makeshift Covid hospital were taking too long, so I had decided to donate towards a public funded hospital to aid in the treatment of patients. To that end, I had arrived at an agreement with Save The Children Foundation to donate towards the paediatrics department of Tilak Hospital in New Delhi. I had issued a cheque to the tune of 90 lakhs / 9 million rupees towards this cause on 20 August 2021. However, on 08 September, 2021, I was informed by Save The Children Foundation that the South Delhi Municipal Corporation had refused to accept my donation and the cheque was returned to me. Since for reasons not communicated to me, the SDMC refused my donation, in order to ensure that the donated amounts were not left unutilised, but were rather used to provide treatment and relief to the affected families in need, I donated INR. 74.50 lakhs to the CM CARES Fund of Maharashtra, for relief work in my home state, and to the PM CARES Fund, for relief work across India.
Thus, out of the total of INR. 2.69 Crores (about 26.9 million) received, a total of 1 Crore, 14 lakhs and 50 thousand rupees [40 lakhs + 74.50 lakhs] was utilized for relief work as explained above. Another 1 Crore 5 lakhs rupees (10.05 million) was levied and collected as tax by the Income Tax Department. This accounts for 2 Crore 19 lakhs and 50 thousand rupees (20.19 million) out of the total funds raised. The remaining amount, which comes to a little less than INR. 50 lakhs (5 million), is also accounted for as I had made a Fixed Deposit of 50 lakhs (5 million) for the field hospital, which I have stated above. I reiterate that my claims are supported by documents which I have already placed before the authorities.
It is abundantly clear that no part of the relief campaign fund remains unaccounted for, and there is absolutely no scope for any remote allegation of misuse of the funds for personal expenses. Such allegations are preposterous, wholly mala fide and belied by record, and is a deliberate misreading of my bank statements. All personal expenses borne by me are out of my personal income and savings. I have demonstrably shown, before the Income Tax Department, as also before two zonal offices of the ED, that no part of the relief campaign money has been used for any other purpose. It is pertinent that the only unutilised part of the fund, viz. the Fixed Deposit of 50 lakhs, could not be used as it was provisionally attached by the Income Tax Department from 07.08.2021 till 07.02.2022.
The various allegations reported by the media, who seem to be in possession of the Provisional Attachment Order dt. 04.02.2022 of the ED, which I do not have a copy of, are utterly baseless, mala fide and fanciful. For now, since I had raised public money through the campaigns, I am sharing an account of how the public money was spent, in order to assuage any doubts about their use and maintain transparency.
The smear campaign against me will not deter me from my professional commitment to continue to do my work as a journalist, and especially to raise critical issues and ask inconvenient questions, as is my duty as a journalist in a constitutional democracy.
I am confident that the allegations levelled against me will not withstand any fair and honest scrutiny.