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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Brand Dalai Lama

May 1, 2009

How much is he worth? Anand Sankar does some number crunching.
Anand Sankar / New Delhi
Business-Standard (India)
April 25, 2009

How much is he worth? Anand Sankar does some number crunching.

While the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, marks his
fiftieth year as a Tibetan refugee in India, in
his Tibetan capital-in-exile, Mcleodganj in
Himachal Pradesh, it is business as usual. The
parliament-in-exile and its bureaucratic satrap
have been putting together a budget for the
current fiscal — a sum of Rs 103 crore that will
be spent on the administration and welfare of a
community that numbers 1.4 lakh today. (Click here for more pictures)

Going through the budget, the "officials" are
keen to point out its salient features. Among
their new ventures is exploring options to set up
an independent co-cooperative bank to make credit
more accessible for themselves, plans to set up
BPOs in the refugee settlements to provide
employment to graduate Tibetans and make organic
agriculture the norm for the community.

Of particular interest is the income generated by
the Green Book. The Green Book is a record of the
"voluntary tax” that the community pays to their
government-in exile. The officials stress the
importance that this tax has on the future of the
community, and the need to kick-start more
income-generating projects. On the face of it, it
appears that the Dalai Lama’s plans to make the
community accountable for itself are taking
shape. The Tibetans seem to have come a long way
since 1959 when the Dalai Lama, followed by about
80,000 of his people, made their way into India
to “escape an encircling Chinese presence." They
crossed the formidable Himalayas with nothing but
the possessions on their backs.

Rs 103 crore (2009-10). It is the total of the
administration and development components.

Year            Development     Administration
2009-10         Rs 85 cr        Rs 18 cr
2008-09         Rs 80 cr        Rs 18.5 cr

(The budget is in variance of about 10 per cent
along these numbers for the last few years, as it
mostly depends on foreign donors releasing their long-term funding in batches)

Being the unquestioned spiritual leader of Tibet,
the Dalai Lama finds himself in every facet of
Tibetan life in some form or the other. But a
closer examination reveals there is an invisible
and inseparable umbilical cord that ever more
firmly links the Tibetan exile economy to what can be called Brand Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama is currently on a tour of the
United States, a country he is visiting for the
umpteenth time -- and not without reason. Though
he is not pencilled in to meet any officials or
President Barack Obama, the US State Department
is by far the largest donor to the Tibetan exile
economy at almost $3.5 million annually. And the
US has the largest bloc of individual and
organisational donors. Almost 70 per cent of the
Tibetan exile community’s budget is still reliant
on long-term funding from a battery of foreign
donors as projects to generate income from within
the community have not delivered. Upon their
arrival in India, land was leased to the Tibetan
refugees by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in
Karnataka. Here the Dalai Lama attempted at
creating an economy that could sustain itself on
agriculture and the cottage industry. But that
has failed. While the cottage industries were
divested from the exile administration into
individual Tibetan hands in 2001, the agriculture
story too has unravelled in due course.
Agriculture in Tibetan settlements is today
acknowledged to not be adequately profitable,
which is the reason provided for its shift to
organic farming, but that too does not have a
track record of proving sustained profitability.

Following the US closely are the European
countries -- Norway, United Kingdom, France, The
Netherlands, Denmark and Germany — in backing the
Tibetans. The Dalai Lama is expected to visit
these countries regularly over the next few
years, even though the toll these exertions will
place on his ageing body are clear. In addition
to the funding by donors, simply tickets to
listen to the Dalai Lama generate income — a
ticket to listen to him in Frankfurt in August
will cost between ¤130 and ¤230. Sometimes
charity dinners follow these public appearances
to raise funds, an example being one held in Mumbai recently.

The money generated goes into directly supporting
programmes that are outlined by the Dalai Lama as
key to sustaining the refugee community —
preserving the cultural identity, education and
keeping alive the political struggle. The funding
from the US State Department’s Bureau of
Population, Refugees and Migration pays for
Tibetan schooling and Fulbright scholarships for
courses in the US, while the same department’s
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs pays
for preserving the Tibetan identity. There is
direct support from organisations such as the
Norwegian Church Aid to fund the Dalai Lama’s
middle-way approach (to seek autonomy and not
independence from China). Finally, the same
Norwegians are funding the attempt to revive
Tibetan agriculture through organic methods.

The Indian government takes the official stand
that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of
China and does not extend any formal monetary
support to the Tibetan refugees. It bore the cost
of the initial settlements but since then its
role has remained restricted to the leased land
and providing identity and travel papers for the
refugees. Only refugees who have opted for Indian
citizenship are allowed to own land

It is worthwhile noting their silence when
members of the Tibetan hierarchy are asked about
a future without the 14th Dalai Lama. Even in the
democratic setup the Tibetans claim to have
created in exile, the Dalai Lama is still at its
apex wielding a certain degree of power. Though
they insist that structures are in place to
handle his absence, Thubten Samphel, writer and
member of the Tibetan bureaucracy, betrays the
nervousness when he says: “It is the persona of
the current Dalai Lama that worries the Chinese the most.”

It is the persona that has won the man a Nobel
Peace Prize and Congressional Gold Medal from the
US among a plethora of felicitations. Last year
he was voted among Time magazine’s world’s 100
most influential people for the second time. He
set a record in 2003 when he drew a crowd of more
than 65,000 people at a speech in Central Park,
London. And a German magazine’s 2002 poll
reported that 37 per cent Catholic Germans listed
the Dalai Lama ahead of Nelson Mandela and Pope
John Paul II as the wisest public figure.

These are joined by headline-grabbing Hollywood
personalities such as Richard Gere, Harrison
Ford, Sharon Stone and Steven Seagal who back him and the

Tibetans in their struggle. When the Dalai Lama
voiced support in favour of conservation efforts
targeting the royal Bengal tiger, the Tibetans in
China stopped using tiger body parts for any kind of use.

The process to choose the next Dalai Lama will be
a tortuous one and will begin only when the
incumbent is no more. While the man himself once
said he might be the last Dalai Lama, it is
unlikely. No one knows where the search for the
next Dalai Lama will happen. Will it include
Chinese Tibet? But the Dalai Lama has insisted
his reincarnation “will be born only in a free
country”. Tibetan activists and leaders brush off
fears that uncertainty will be the result of this
power vacuum. The Tibetan government-in-exile
funds the rituals performed to bless the Dalai
Lama with a long life from its own budget -- for
there can be no doubt that Brand Dalai Lama is
worth more than just the sum of money that flows
into his charitable institutions.

The TGIE is not a body registered or recognised
in any country. Headquartered in Dharamsala,
Himachal Pradesh, it is headed by the Dalai Lama
and comprises a cabinet, and elected head and
parliament-in-exile. An entire bureaucratic setup
provides for government-like services for Tibetan refugees.

The Green Book
It is a document issued to all Tibetan refugees
in India and abroad by the TGIE. It is used to
document the “voluntary contribution” to the
TGIE. A sum of Rs 6.15 crore was collected in
2007-08. Having a Green Book is not compulsory
but without it one cannot vote for the TGIE or access services offered by it

Refugees in India

* Rs 58 basic, sum for those not permanently employed
* The salaried pay Rs 58 plus 2 per cent of whole
consolidated pay or 4 per cent of basic pay, whichever is higher
* Cooperative societies and businesses, if
profitable, pay 15 per cent of the profit

Refugees abroad

* $46 basic, the sum for those not employed
* $96 per year for the salaried

Income level of Tibetan refugees
(As calculated in 2004)

* 10 per cent below poverty line (earning less than $1 per day)
* 35 per cent earn above Rs. 8,000 per annum
* Average individual income Rs. 13,000 per annum

Green Book benefits

* Students at monasteries between the age of 6-25
get Rs 200 per month as stipend
* Education upto class XII free of tuition fees
* Scholarships for higher studies, especially professional courses
* Free primary healthcare and absorption of costs
for major medical interventions for low-income groups on a case-by-case basis


* US State Department contributes almost $3.5 million annually
* Norway, principally the Norwegian Church Aid, provides $0.5 million
* Organisations and individuals from Switzerland,
Denmark, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, India and other countries
* The Indian government’s support is the land
leased for settlements and sums spent to settle initial refugees

How the money is channelled
Donor funds are channelled through many
registered charitable trusts. The
government-in-exile draws the money from these
and expenditure is accounted to them

* His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s Charitable Trust
* Tibetan Administration’s Welfare society
* Social and Resource Development Fund
* Central Tibetan Relief Committee
* Tibetan Children’s Welfare Education fund
* Tibetan Volunteer Health Association
* His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s Religious and Cultural Society
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