The ‘red soil’ of Kerala has always been considered infertile for industrial growth. Many blame the hyper activism of the left-wing trade unions for killing the entrepreneurial spirit. However, one particular sector has survived and thrived, raking in huge profits over the years — the orphanage industry.
Probes by the police and the Local Fund Audit Department into the orphanages run by charity organisations have revealed that most of them are getting government grants by hook or crook.
TEHELKA’s exposé of the child trafficking network operating under the cover of orphanages (The kids aren’t alright, 14 June) forced the government to conduct a probe into the functioning of orphanages. The National Human Rights Commission has also issued notices to the chief secretaries and DGPs of Kerala, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal about child trafficking from other states to Kerala.
The State Human Rights Commission’s investigation into the functioning of orphanages in Kerala revealed that most of the orphanages are run not for charity, but only for money.
Earlier, State Human Rights Commission chairman Justice (retd) JB Koshy had ordered a probe into the affairs of orphanages and directed the managements to submit a list of inmates who had come from other states. But none has complied with the demand.
Deputy Inspector General of Police S Sreejith, the nodal officer for anti-human trafficking in Kerala who conducted the probe, submitted his report to the State Human Rights Commission earlier this week. In his report, Sreejith has pointed out various violations committed by orphanage managements and illegal activities in the functioning of charity homes.
“As per the documents and statements given by the orphanage authorities to state departments and the Union home ministry, it has been found that the managements submitted fake documents to grab government grants meant for destitute children,” says Sreejith. “The Local Fund Audit Department had notified these violations to the state government. But no action was taken.”
According to Sreejith, the orphanage managements routinely submit fake documents and claim excess grants to fill their coffers. “Orphanages receiving foreign donations are ineligible for government grants,” he says. “But they submit documents stating that they have not received foreign contributions and the state government has no mechanism to verify their statements.”
Local Fund Audit Department director in-charge KJ Varghese also confirmed that his department had notified the state government about violations regarding grants given to orphanages. “Every year, we scrutinise the records of the orphanages and notify violations to the government,” he says. “In order to claim grants, it is mandatory for the managements to submit documents saying that they are not receiving foreign funds or aid from outside agencies. We have no mechanism to verify whether they have received foreign contributions because it is the Union home ministry that keeps track of violations under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.”
Investigations revealed that among the 419 orphanages operating in Kerala, many had violated the provisions for receiving grant-in-aid from the government. The Social Justice Department had directed the Board of Control of Orphanages and Other Charitable Homes to conduct a probe regarding the swindling of government aid. But the apex body has not taken the initiative to order the investigation because its members are allegedly involved in the cover-up. Many orphanages are run by people who are known to be close to powerful politicians.
According to Social Justice Department director VN Jitendran, institutions that receive foreign financial assistance should furnish, along with the application for grant-in-aid, an audited certificate from the chartered accountant showing the details of the foreign funds received or receivable and its utilisation.
The Mukkam Muslim Orphanage, which claims to house 1,500 inmates and allegedly trafficked 455 children from Jharkhand and Bihar, claimed a grant-in- aid of Rs 28.55 lakh during 2012-13 by submitting fake certificates. In a letter to the orphanage control board, the management declared that it did not receive any foreign donations during that particular financial year.
However, records accessed by TEHELKA proved otherwise. The annual return form (FC-6) on foreign contributions submitted to the Union home ministry clearly shows that the management had received Rs 8 lakh from foreign donors during 2012-13.
Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musaliyar, who is considered as the most powerful Muslim cleric in Kerala, runs the Markaz Orphanage. Markaz also used similar means to dupe the government and swindle grants in the name of orphans. The orphanage had claimed Rs 13.90 lakh grant-in-aid from the state government even as it received Rs 2.4 crore as foreign aid.
Similarly, Al-Islah Orphanage, Kodiyathoor, which is run by Jamaat-e-Islami followers, and the orphanages set up by the Muslim Educational Society also concealed their foreign donations while getting grants from the state government.
Wayanad Muslim Orphanage, Muttil, which proclaims its motto as “respect the child as a person” also used a similar modus operandi to claim government aid meant for destitute children.
However, Muslim organisations are not the only ones using fraudulent means to swindle grants. Christian charity organisations are also doing the same to dupe the government. St Joseph’s Orphanage, Koduvally, and Mercy Home, Kayanna, had claimed government aid while receiving foreign donations.
“Charity homes are a cover for all these clandestine operations,” says a police officer on condition of anonymity. “They run orphanages as a business and rake in huge profits. Most of the orphanages also run government-aided schools. When they admit 50 children in their orphanage and school, they will be able to get one teacher’s post per 40 children in the aided school. Such vacancies are often auctioned; a teacher’s post can fetch as much as Rs 20 lakh. If they get 200 children from other states, they can get more than Rs 1 crore as bribes for the teachers’ posts in their schools. So, they use agents for recruiting children from other states and pay Rs 2,000-3,000 per child to the agent.”
According to Social Justice Department officials, most of the orphanages seek government recognition as it gives them protection as well as grant-in-aid for their illegal activities.
“We have discovered that many orphanages in Kerala have hired professional fund-raisers to get sponsorships for the children from foreign countries. Some orphanages make money by arranging marriages of the orphans to rich businessmen in the Gulf. They charge 5-10 lakh for each marriage arranged in their premises. Most of the marriages last for only for a short duration as the rich husbands vanish from Kerala after the girl gets pregnant,” says a police officer who had investigated a case in which an Arab married a girl from a Kozhikode orphanage.
According to a chartered accountant based in Kozhikode, the orphanages tend to undervalue the amount of foreign contributions in their account books. “Plenty of money is transacted through hawala channels and it is never accounted for. That is how they run their charity business,” he says.
Over the years, charity organisations in Kerala have developed a system to dupe the state government and monitoring agencies. “No government official will scrutinise their accounts as they all have political godfathers and religious cover to protect their activities. In such a situation, they have a free rein in the state,” says an Opposition MLA from Kozhikode on the condition of anonymity. “It is not their money power that silences the politicians,” he adds. “It is their brand of votebank politics.”
Investigations by the Crime Branch of the Kerala Police revealed that a well-oiled mafia is active in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. Agents recruit poor children from these states and send them to orphanages in Kerala.
“It is a big network that brings children to orphanages in Kerala,” says a police officer who is now camping in Jharkhand. “The network enjoys the support of local officials, who procure the fake documents required for admissions in Kerala. We have arrested two persons who were running the racket.”
The police suspect that many orphanages are trafficking children to the Gulf countries, where they are engaged as domestic help by their sponsors.
“The orphanages do not keep a record of inmates who were brought from other states,” says a teacher who worked at a school run by an orphanage management in Malappuram. “Most of them are studying in Malayalam-medium schools run by the orphanages. So, the children from other states are unable to follow the medium of instruction. They end up as dropouts and leave Kerala without gaining even basic education.”
In the past two weeks, the Kerala government has sent back nearly 250 children who were trafficked from Bihar, Bengal and Jharkhand. The last batch of 43 children left on 17 June.
Orphanages are sending the trafficked children back to their home states as the police have started raiding such institutions.
“The orphanages fear that the Centre is going to order a CBI probe into the issue,” says a police officer. “So, they want to dump the children. They are doing so to save their own skin.”
On 10 June, police rescued 29 children from Bihar who were kicked out of an orphanage in Thodupuzha. They told the police that the management had asked them to leave the premises after the child trafficking controversy came to light. They are currently lodged at the government orphanage in Thrissur.
It seems the state is slowly waking up to ensure juvenile justice. But the offenders are the same people who can make and unmake governments. Will the law finally catch up with them?