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14 April, 2015

Action plan against NGOs

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Close on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s open exhortation to the Judiciary to guard against “five-star activists”, the government last week launched a direct attack on Greenpeace, the global non-government organisation whose Indian chapter is spearheading the people’s campaign against some of his pet projects which endangers life and livelihood of the poor.

Modi delivered his warning against activists at a conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers, a periodical exercise aimed at sorting out matters of mutual concern to the Judiciary and the Executive.

The Judiciary, he said, should be cautious about delivering perception-driven verdicts, especially when perceptions were sourced from five-star activists.

Indira Jaising, a former Additional Solicitor-General, in a forthright response, said Modi seemed to be targeting his opponents and those critical of the development policies of the ruling dispensation. “The message for the Judiciary,” she added, “is: ‘Don’t mess with me or my development policies.’”

The attempt to intimidate the Judiciary into taking an anti-activist line came a few weeks after the Delhi High Court quashed a government order which prevented Greenpeace campaigner Priya S Pillai from boarding a flight to London. Her mission was to draw the attention of British parliamentarians to a mega project of a UK-based company which threatens to destroy the environment and uproot tribes in a forest area.

Last week the government launched a fresh attack on Greenpeace. This time it sought not to restrain an individual activist but to immobilise the entire organisation. It suspended Greenpeace India’s licence to receive remittances from abroad for six months and blocked its bank accounts.

Some of the government’s allegations against Greenpeace were couched in vague terms. For instance, it accused the NGO of campaigning, protesting and lobbying against the government policies and attempting to delay and obstruct energy plans. One charge was downright frivolous: it accused the NGO of holding talks with the Aam Admi Party, the ruling party of Delhi state. Another was hilarious: it said the NGO had placed a full-page anti-nuclear colour advertisement with a sarcasm-laden header in a leading English daily.

Greenpeace India accused the government of conducting a smear campaign against it and vowed to continue campaigning on issues fearlessly. It also said it would challenge the government order in court.

Following a Supreme Court directive, the Central Bureau of Investigation wrote to all state governments in 2013 seeking information on non-government organisations registered with them. Not all of them replied.

Based on the replies received the CBI estimated that there were about two million NGOs in the country. Uttar Pradesh topped the list with more than half a million and Kerala came next with about 369,000. Most of them are actually voluntary organisations engaged in social work with grants from the government and meekly toe the official line.

Unlike them, the Indian chapter of Greenpeace, formed in 2001, is an advocacy group which seeks changes in policies detrimental to the interests of the people, especially the poor, and provides constructive leadership to grassroots-level campaigns against disastrous policies pursued by the government. Since 2010, it has been promoting sustainable agricultural projects and solar-based energy models.

Former Delhi University professor Achin Vinaik, prominent environmentalist Ashish Kothari, leading lawyer Vrinda Grover and G. Gautama of the Chennai-based Krishnamurthi Foundation are among the members of Greenpeace India’s executive committee.

Greenpeace India receives funds from abroad but local donations finance most of its activities. It spent about Rs335 million in 2013. Of this, Rs200 million came from local donations. Foreign grants amounted to Rs132 million. Greenpeace accepts donations only from individuals and foundations. It does not accept donations from governments and corporate entities.

The hunt is unlikely to stop with Greenpeace. Home Ministry officials were ready with an action plan against a whole range of NGOs even before Modi took office. The day before he took oath as Prime Minister, a Delhi newspaper reported that good days may be over for NGOs operating in sectors like participatory democracy, advocacy, action research, innovative communication, inclusiveness etc.

It quoted sources as saying the Home Ministry’s Foreigners Division was tightening the noose around NGOs and that those who organised workshops on regulatory frameworks, developing communication strategies, people’s participation, policy analysis etc were being screened. Modi couldn’t have asked for more. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 14, 2015.

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