Hindus withdraw from a Year of Service

By Jessica Elgot, May 31, 2012

A Hindu social action group has pulled out of an interfaith volunteering venture because of concerns over a £65,000 government allocation to Mitzvah Day, which is administering it.

Leaders of the Hindu equivalent — Sewa Day — claim requests for a breakdown of the £30,000 and £35,000 allocated by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government towards A Year of Service have been stonewalled.

The project involves nine faith communities working together on short-term volunteering schemes. Mitzvah Day — founded by Board of Deputies vice-president Laura Marks — was appointed to oversee A Year of Service because of its expertise in co-ordinating volunteering activities.

Sewa Day chair Arup Ganguly said repeated requests had been made to establish how the £65,000 would be spent and whether Sewa Day could apply for any of the money. “For a number of months, we have been seeking clarity but we have been stonewalled and are extremely disappointed that we have still not received any financial breakdown for this initiative —— £65,000 is a lot of money in these austere times.

“The project does need funding. But we were never told this funding existed. One of my community leaders tripped over it when he saw it referred to in a letter from his MP. I was told I was not privy to the information. But we are not talking about the Ministry of Defence here. This is public money.”

We have been seeking clarity but have been stonewalled

Ms Marks insisted that the money was solely for the administration of A Year of Service. “It will pay for staff administration time, monitoring, a website, IT support, basic infrastructure. We are not allowed to use it for our own Mitzvah Day activities and other groups cannot apply for it.”

She was “extremely sorry” at the withdrawal of Sewa Day. “Like Sewa Day, Mitzvah Day operates on full transparency and accountability and accounts are available through the Charities Commission. We hope that the British Hindu community — such a significant presence in local communities and sharing our core values of giving and doing good works — will embrace the unique opportunity that A Year of Service offers for interfaith social action during this Jubilee year.”

The funding issue was also raised in a Parliamentary question by Brent North MP Barry Gardiner. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude responded that the money was to “fund an administrator role for the Year of Service programme”.

A DCLG spokesman explained that it had been made “quite clear that the grant was to allow Mitzvah Day to take on the central admin and promotional role for the whole of the programme, working with all participating faith communities and benefiting them all.

“DCLG has always replied promptly to all private communications from Sewa Day. We are continuing work with all the other faith groups involved in A Year of Service to ensure it is a success and very much hope that British Hindus will play a part in that.”

Last updated: 2:42pm, May 31 2012