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US-based charity Bloomberg Philanthropies on “watched” by intelligence agencies for funding Indian anti-tobacco lobbying.

Even as US-based charity Bloomberg Philanthropies is still being “watched” by intelligence agencies for funding Indian NGOs engaged in anti-tobacco lobbying, three of its recipient NGOs have either been denied renewal of registration under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act or had their registration cancelled over the past year.

NGOs Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), Assam; VHAI, Karnataka and Institute of Public Health, Karnataka were stripped of FCRA registration as the Act does not allow them to receive foreign funds for activities other than their stated purpose — charitable activities in the social, cultural, religious, educational or economic fields.

“Lobbying is a commercial activity and should be carried out by for-profit companies under the Companies Act and should not be tax exempt as most FCRA-registered NGOs are,” states the IB note on Bloomberg India’s initiative under which it funds several NGOs to run its three-phase campaign to target cigarettes, beedis and smokeless tobacco by lobbying for raising of pictorial health warnings on their packaging and higher taxes among other things.

While IB had identified five Indian NGOs that received funds through US NGOs Campaign for Tobacoo-Free Kids and Tobacco Free Kids Action Fund (both funded by Bloomberg), two NGOs — VHAI, Delhi and VHAI, Rajasthan — were spared action under FCRA.

As per the IB note on Bloomberg’s campaign, the charity run by US billionaire Michael Bloomberg successfully lobbied for 85% pictorial warnings on cigarette packs in India, contrary to recommendations of a statutory body.

The parliamentary committee on subordinate legislation, in its 22nd report tabled in the 10th LS, had recommended a maximum 50% pictorial warning and cautioned that a higher percentage would lead to “flooding of illicit cigarettes” and smuggled foreign brands in the country.

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommends pictorial warning of 50%. Yet, US remains a non-party to the convention. “Bloomberg does not run much of a campaign in the US,” according to the report.

TOI sought Bloomberg’s version by sending queries to its official email address on Thursday. However, there was no response.
The 85% pictorial warning rule was implemented last year following a Supreme Court order.

The IB report states that the higher pictorial health warning on cigarette packs is only the first phase of Bloomberg’s anti-tobacco campaign in India. “It is now working on second phase, which will target production, marketing and consumption of beedis,” it says.

The report says restrictions on tobacco use in India would encourage consumption of more injurious toxicants like alcohol and narcotics. Also, a crackdown on tobacco would hit farmers as 2.6 crore farmers.

“Foreign corporate interests making ‘foreign contributions’ to FCRA-registered NGOs for purposes of lobbying against an established economic activity raises multiple… concerns. This includes adverse economic impact on 3.5 crore people of forced closure of tobacco-related farming/industry,” the note warned.

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