The Indian government, under the new leadership of Narendi Modi, has taken a harsh line against Greenpeace’s opposition to several development projects – blocking funds and preventing individuals from travelling

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has run into serious trouble in India. The government has barred Greenpeace India from receiving foreign funding and has frozen all its bank accounts. As a result, Greenpeace India has no access to funding, including any new local or foreign funding.

The government’s tough stand against Greenpeace is based on a report submitted by the Intelligence Bureau to the prime minister’s office last June when the new federal government was taking charge. The report, leaked to media, calls Greenpeace a “threat to India’s economic and national security”. The report says a number of large development projects have been cancelled, disrupted or delayed because of Greenpeace campaigns against coal mining, coal fired power plants, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hydro power projects, tea farming practices and several large industrial projects. The intelligence report has named London-based Vedanta’s bauxite project, South Korean company Posco’s steel plant in Odisha state and hydro power projects in Arunachal Pradesh state bordering China as examples of affected projects.

The intelligence agency estimates that disruptions to large projects have cut India’s gross domestic product growth by 2-3% a year.

Greenpeace has different ideas for India

The intelligence agency has noted that Greenpeace and other NGOs are using funds from donors in the US, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands to mobilise protests against development projects in India. The agency alleged that Greenpeace has flouted laws relating to receiving and accounting for foreign funding. It has raised questions about the intentions of a number of expat Greenpeace officials, consultants and journalists who were brought to India for various campaigns and projects, and has raised the issue of big salaries being paid to Greenpeace officials and consultants.

Growth pledge

The Indian government, led by prime minister Narendra Modi, came to power by promising rapid development and action against corruption. Since taking office, Modi has made development his key priority. He has launched an unprecedented reform agenda to create a welcoming environment for foreign investors. He has toured almost all industrialised nations inviting their governments and businesses to “make in India”. His energised pitch and the reform agenda have earned friendly postures from world leaders and global chief executives, with US president Barak Obama even calling him India’s Reformer-in-Chief. He wants to modernise India’s creaking infrastructure and needs nearly $1tn in the next five years, mostly from the foreign investors. The last thing he wants is activists getting in the way. Aggressive campaigns by activists can potentially turn off foreign investors.

Even though Modi has repeatedly said he supports sustainable development and will not allow development at the cost of environmental destruction, Greenpeace has a different vision for India’s development. Modi sees coal fired power plants, hydro power and nuclear power as crucial to solving India’s acute shortage of power. Greenpeace says India should embrace renewable energy instead and has tried to physically halt power projects.

The Indian government wants rapid development

The government thinks that GMOs are important for India’s food security; Greenpeace is against GMOs, citing ecological dangers. For the government, large industrial and infrastructure projects across the country are badly needed for the economic development, creating employment and alleviating poverty. Greenpeace says these projects are risking biodiversity, destroying forests and displacing communities.

The government, citing the Intelligence reports, seems to have concluded that Greenpeace is obstructing India’s development at the behest of foreign interests. The action has been swift.

Lock down

In March, Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai, who was heading to the UK to brief British MPs on the ongoing campaign against a coal mine in Madhya Pradesh state jointly owned by London-registered Essar Energy, was taken off a plane and put on a no-fly list on the orders of the Home Ministry. Later, a Delhi High Court judge ordered the government to lift the ban on her travel, a victory for Greenpeace. In another judgment in January, Delhi High Court had ruled that the Home Ministry had not followed due process or shown justification in blocking money from Greenpeace International to Greenpeace India. This, however, followed by freeze on domestic bank accounts and new investigations against the campaigner.

Greenpeace has taken a confrontational position. The campaigner has denied all charges and has labelled the government action as “attempts to silence criticism and dissent”, “an attack on civil society” and “a cynical move to suppress democracy”. Greenpeace India executive director Samit Aich has said: “A campaign is being waged against dissent, but we will not be cowed.”

The government looks determined to act tough against those who oppose its development plans. At the time of writing, the Indian government has just asked the Ford Foundation, the New York based private foundation that funds several local NGOs in India, to get government clearance before spending money, to make sure its funds were used for "bona fide welfare activities within the country".

The battle lines are drawn.

Asia column  Greenpeace  India  NGO 

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