In the past nine years, AOL’s Indian Trusts Have Received Over Rs 3310000000 As Foreign Contributions

06 May 2016
The site of the World Cultural Festival being dismantled.
Surender Solanki
The site of the World Cultural Festival being dismantled.
Surender Solanki

As reported in an earlier story, the volunteer-based non-government organisation, the Art of Living (AOL) group’s overseas trusts are not only asset-rich but also rake in a handsome amount of revenue on an annual basis. The group has over Rs 234 crore worth of assets, with over Rs 81 crore in latest revenues, from the United States, United Kingdom and the Netherlands alone. The finances for the rest of the countries that the group is established in were inaccessible.

Apart from receiving massive foreign contributions over the last decade, one of the Indian trusts had received cash contributions of Rs 5.54 crore for the quarter ending 31 March. This is surprising given AOL's claim to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on 10 March. Responding to the NGT's order to pay Rs 5 crore as fine for the damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains during the its World Culture Festival, AOL said it was unable to pay as they were charitable organisation, and needed time to raise the funds. The AOL did, then, pay Rs 25 lakh. However, in an NGT proceeding on 3 April, instead of submitting cash, it gave a bank guarantee of Rs 4.75 crore.

Over the last few months, I have been probing the assets of the AOL group, both overseas and Indian. The previous story highlighted the massive asset base that AOL has across the globe. Here, I examine the Rs 331.55 crore foreign contributions, mostly in cash and in kind, that have accrued to four AOL Indian trusts since the 2007 financial year.

Of the AOL’s four trusts—the Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth (VVMP), the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), the Sri Sri RaviShankar trust and the Sri Sri Vidya Mandir Trust—the first two have branches operating in other countries. For instance, VVMP, a non-profit, is operational in Nashua, New Hampshire, in the United States of America. An IAHV trust set up by Ravi Shankar, the spiritual leader of AOL, in 1997, is also registered in a number of countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and many others. This trust is also registered in St Lucia, a notorious tax haven.

According to the AOL website, the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Vidya Mandir Trust, founded in 1999, works as “the educational wing of the Art of Living, to promote holistic education in a stress free and child friendly environment.” In less than two decades after its foundation, it already boasts of around 100 educational campuses spanning the education spectrum from pre-primary to post-graduate studies in Management, Ayurveda, and even journalism. The Sri Sri Ravishankar trust, as per its Foreign Contribution Regulation Act contributions record, is based in Bangalore.

Kaushal Shroff is an independent journalist. He was formerly a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: Yamuna National Green Tribunal art of living