Greenpeace India in Danger of Shutdown

By Altaf Ahmad
150512-IN-Greenpeace-620 Greenpeace activists drape a giant protest banner on the Mumbai headquarters of the Essar Group, an Indian multinational company, Jan. 22, 2014.

Global environmental activist group Greenpeace says it may be forced to shut down its operations in India due to a recent move by the Indian government to freeze its funds.

The Ministry of Home Affairs last month cancelled Greenpeace’s registration as a non-governmental organization operating in India, accusing it of violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) by routing foreign funds to local bank accounts without legal permission.

Greenpeace India says it plans to challenge the government’s move in court, but the freezing of its bank accounts could bring about the NGO’s demise on Indian soil.

“The ministry of home affairs has not responded to our plea so far,” Greenpeace India spokesman Jitendra Kumar told BenarNews.

“It appears the government is against our mission of ‘clean environment’ and just wants us to close operations. We have urged government to unfreeze our bank accounts to enable us to continue our operations and pay the salaries of the staff,” Kumar added.

On its website, Greenpeace India says the government has blocked access to donations made to its bank accounts from more than 77,000 Indian citizens.

‘Chilling effects’

Greenpeace is among close to 9,000 foreign-funded NGOs whose licenses have been stripped this year by the Indian government, which has accused them of failing to obey national fiscal rules, BBC News reported.

One of the other non-governmental organizations in trouble with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the U.S.-based Ford Foundation.

The cases of Greenpeace and the Ford Foundation have drawn international scrutiny. Critics have suggested that India is clamping down on free speech by going after NGOs whose programs don’t necessarily align with government policies.

For example, U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma last week publicly criticized Modi’s government for its recent actions against Greenpeace and the Ford Foundation.

He said these could have negative repercussions for civil society, the Hindustan Times reported on May 7.

"I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India," the newspaper quoted the American envoy as saying.

"Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs."

NGOs should be regulated: commentators

Officials with the Home Ministry declined interview requests from BenarNews to discuss the Greenpeace case.

Meanwhile, environmental campaigners offered mixed opinions in commenting on the government’s move to restrict Greenpeace.

Some said it could deal a severe blow to the organization that had campaigned for pesticide-free farming and against genetically modified food, nuclear power and coal-based energy for the past 14 years, but Greenpeace India needed to follow the country’s laws.

“Greenpeace India is working on important issues related to environment. The governing body of this global group should address the government’s concerns and resume its operations lawfully,” Mayank Kumar, a history professor at Delhi University and environmentalist, told BenarNews.

“Mushrooming growth of organizations or groups operating in the name of preserving environment must be regulated but the groups which work on ground effectively should be encouraged to continue,” he added.

Former Indian Foreign Secretary Salman Haider agreed.

“The apprehensions of Greenpeace India to call off its operations will certainly discourage other organisations working for the environment,” he told BenarNews.

But there should be proper mechanisms in place to regulate NGO activities in the country, he hastened to add.

“Climate change and environmental degradation pose a massive challenge across the world,” he said. “Therefore the groups working on such important issues should be provided support so that desired results are achieved. The government decision will certainly discourage organizations working for achieving better environmental conditions.”

Doing good work

Sudish Kumar, a student pursuing a master’s environmental science at Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh state, said he thought the government was being too tough on Greenpeace India.

“The government should have taken into the consideration the good work of the group operating globally before taking this harsh decision,” he told BenarNews.

“Pollution levels are alarmingly increasing in India with each passing day due to the establishment of more industries. And, in such a situation, Greenpeace India should be encouraged to operate across the country,” he added.


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