Claims have been circulating on Internet chat groups that the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) has between $100 million and $400 million parked in foreign bank accounts accumulating interest. These and other such claims are based on chat-group analysis of publicly available records of financial contributions to MAM from sources outside India. But, in fact, the allegations pointing to foreign-bank holdings rest entirely on a single line in each of these reports that reads “Bank Interest.”
The allegations also state that AIMS Hospital, Amrita University and other MAM institutions are profit-generating institutions and, therefore, donations expended in support of these institutions have been spent improperly.
Evidently, these online posters hope that if one repeats something often enough, it will be accepted as the truth.
We at Amma Scandal sent an email asking MAM to respond to these allegations. MAM’s response is given below. Included in the statement is the fact that the line “Bank Interest” does not refer to income from interest gleaned from foreign bank accounts, but interest on Indian bank accounts into which foreign donations were deposited. It is also a fact that Indian bank accounts generate a higher rate of interest than bank accounts in Western countries like the United States. So, there is no $400 million in savings; there is not even $100 million in savings. Rather there is a sum, set aside by legal means, over 25 years, to serve, quite reasonably, for future use, as well as to fund relief efforts in the event of major natural disasters. MAM’s response is below:
21 February 2014
The Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) would like to make it clear that the Internet rumor that MAM has between $100 million U.S. to $400 million U.S. laying dormant in the bank is categorically incorrect. As per the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) reports, the total foreign funds accumulated by MAM as of the end of the 2011-2012 fiscal year was Rs. 314 crores—the equivalent of $50.53 million U.S. [Calculated using the conversion rate of February 21, 2014 of 62.142455 Indian rupees to one U.S. dollar.] It should also be noted that this Rs. 314 crores accumulated since 1988—over a period of 24 years, not since 2006 as some people have claimed.
Whenever MAM receives a donation earmarked for a specific project, it is put toward that project. MAM also receives donations from people who specifically request that their donation is to be set aside as part of an endowment, and other donations from people who say that MAM is free to decide how best to use their donation.
MAM is running a constantly expanding massive charitable undertaking, which involves homes for the homeless, disaster relief, pensions for widows and disabled people, scholarships for the poor, an orphanage, charitable hospitals, free surgeries for the poor, village adoption and much more. As a security against a future potential for a decline in donations, it would be irresponsible for MAM to fail to save a portion of the foreign donations received. The amount currently being saved by MAM is to assist MAM in maintaining its current charitable projects should donations reduce in the future. These funds are also used for relief-and-rehabilitation activities in the event of natural disasters. For example, after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, MAM spent more than Rs. 200 crores [$32.18 million U.S. by 21-2-14 exchange rate] for relief and rehabilitation of tsunami survivors—nearly 2/3 of what MAM is currently holding in savings from foreign donations.
AIMS Hospital, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Amrita University), and the Amrita Vidyalayam school system are not-for-profit institutions. In fact, they—and all other institutions run by charitable trusts like MAM—are legally prohibited from generating profits, and they do not do so. There are 100,000 students studying in MAM’s institutions at any given time. MAM is dedicated to providing high-quality, values-based education and producing highly skilled, service-oriented graduates to contribute to a more compassionate and prosperous society. MAM’s university runs a robust research department with a humanitarian focus, dedicated to deploying concrete solutions for people in need. These are institutions with noble, service-oriented goals that do not generate one penny of profit.
Further, it is difficult to entertain the claim that funds expended to build hospital facilities and buy hospital equipment cannot be called charitable. Without equipment, facilities, paying for electricity and general building maintenance, how could AIMS treat patients? It is like saying one should paint a painting without ever buying a canvas. AIMS Hospital and its satellite clinics have treated more than three million patients totally free of charge since 1998, and spent more than Rs. 433 crores [$69.68 million U.S.] on charitable healthcare. Many of these patients receive tertiary care requiring state-of-the-art equipment. In the period from October 2012 – August 2013 alone, AIMS provided heart surgeries for 253 impoverished patients at no charge (the typical cost for such a procedure at a private hospital is between Rs. 150,000 – Rs. 500,000). And that is just the figure from one specialty department—AIMS Hospital houses more than 40 such departments. As to the claim that AIMS is reimbursed for all surgeries like these via the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund (PMRF) and other forms of government relief, this is incorrect. For example, during the year of 2013, out of all the free care that AIMS provided to the poor, it was only compensated by PMRF for a total of 26 patients. For these patients, AIMS provided care at an expenditure of Rs. 52 lakhs [$83,679 U.S] and was reimbursed by PMRF for a total of only 14 lakhs [$22,529 U.S.].
Moreover, the wild claim that MAM has the Rs. 314 crores in a Swiss bank account is totally false. In this regard, it is worth noting that, as per the laws of the Government of India, all of MAM’s funds must be kept in a National and Scheduled bank within the country of India. It would be illegal for MAM to keep funds in any foreign bank—Swiss or otherwise—and it does not do so. Thus, line items in MAM’s FCRA reports that say “Bank Interest” refer to interest from Indian banks into which foreign funds have been deposited. (Inclusion of such interest is a requisite aspect of such reports.) It should further be noted that, as a rule, Indian banks offer a much higher annual interest percentage than banks in places such as the United States. In India, it is not uncommon to receive more than 9% annually as interest.
MAM is complying with these and all other rules and regulations. The Government of India is scrutinizing MAM’s accounts every year and accepting the accounts.
Brahmachari Mathrudas Chaitanya
Head of Accounts