Monday, May 11, 2015

Greenpeace at war in India

Environmental campaigner 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 including the domestic bank accounts. As a result, Greenpeace India has no more access to new funding – local or foreign-  or the monies in its various bank accounts.

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 terms Greenpeace as a “threat to India’s economic and national security.” The report says that a number of large development projects have been cancelled, disrupted or delayed because of Greenpeace campaign against coal mining, coal fired power plants, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), hydro power projects, tea farming practices and several large industrial projects. The intelligence report has mentioned London-based Vedanta’s bauxite project and 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 per cent a year.

The intelligence agency has noted that Greenpeace and other NGOs are using funds from donors in USA, UK, Germany and the Netherlands to mobilize protests against development projects in India. The agency also alleged that Greenpeace has flouted laws relating to receiving and accounting foreign funding. The agency 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. The agency has also raised the issue of steep 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 fight against corruption. Since taking office, PM 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 the world leaders and global CEOs with US president Barak Obama even calling him India’s Reformer-in-Chief.  He wants to modernise India’s creaking infrastructure and needs nearly one trillion dollars in the next five years, mostly from the foreign investors. The last thing he wants is activists coming in the way. Aggressive campaigns by activists can potentially turn off foreign investors.

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

The government thinks that the GMO is important for India’s food security; Greenpeace is against it 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 bio-diversity, destroying forests and displacing communities.

The government, based on 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 headed 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 deplaned 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 judgement 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 categorically 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 that “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 this piece, the news came in that the Indian government has asked the Ford Foundation; the New York based private foundation which 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. The war is over which development model is good for India and who decides what is good for India.

Contributed by Rajesh Chhabara, founder of CSRWorks International and a member of Ethical Corporation's editorial advisory board.
This article originally appeared in Ethical Corporation magazine, May 2015 issue.