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Timeline: How India cracked down on Greenpeace

Quartz india
Quartz india

The Indian government has cancelled Greenpeace India Society’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which would stop the non-government organisation (NGO) from receiving any funds from abroad.

For months now, the Narendra Modi government has been coming down hard on foreign-funded NGOs in India. Between April and June this year, the government revoked the licences of some 13,000 NGOs, and even placed the Ford Foundation on a watch list. The move evoked a rare rebuke from the US ambassador to India, Richard R. Verma, who warned of the “potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps.”

Nonetheless, Indian government says it has now cancelled Greenpeace’s FCRA registration because the NGO is “working against the country’s economic progress,” the Press Trust of India reported. The FCRA (pdf) regulates the “acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality” for “any activities detrimental to the national interest.”

International funding pays for up to 30% of Greenpeace India’s overall cost of operations. Founded in 2001, Greenpeace India says that its donors also include 77,000 Indians, and the NGO’s annual income of about Rs17 crore (around $2.6 million). Greenpeace India has said that it will not be deterred by these attempts to “silence” its campaigns for transparency in public processes.

Writing in The Guardian last month, journalist Samanth Subramanian, noted:

In all likelihood, Greenpeace—and other campaigning groups—will face these situations increasingly in the coming years. As in India at the moment, the pressures upon governments to ramp up economic growth and to drain every ounce of extractable resource out of the earth are immense. Simultaneously, the environment edges closer to peril. For anyone who has breathed the air of Delhi or Mumbai, or witnessed the alarming degradation of the country’s water bodies, or understood how Indian governments and crony capitalists connive to bypass environmental laws, the need for NGOs seems obvious, even urgent. Activists fire themselves up to be bolder and louder. Collisions with the state are inevitable.

For more than a year now, the Indian government has been cracking down on Greenpeace. Here’s a timeline:

June 2014: An Intelligence Bureau report calls Greenpeace “a threat to national economic security,” citing activities such as protests against nuclear and coal plants and the funding of “sympathetic” research to support its causes. Even the NGO’s alleged support for an Aam Aadmi Party candidate in the Lok Sabha elections makes it to this list of suspicious activities.

Following this, the Indian home ministry tells the Reserve Bank of India to seek prior permission from the government before allowing any transfer of funds from the Greenpeace International and Climate Works Foundation—one of the principal international contributors to the society in Indiato Greenpeace India’s bank accounts.

January 2015: The Delhi high court, in a response to Greenpeace’s appeal filed in August 2014, orders the Indian government to unfreeze the NGO’s funds. The court says there were no reasons to restrict Greenpeace from accessing foreign funds.

On Jan. 12, the immigration authorities at New Delhi’s international airport stop Greenpeace India activist, Priya Pillai, from boarding a flight to London. She was travelling to make a presentation before British members of parliament on alleged human rights violation by London-listed Essar Energy. Essar is planning to build a coal mine at Madhya Pradesh’s Mahan forest.

February 2015: The Indian government tells the Delhi high court that it will withdraw the look out circular—used to trace absconding criminals or persons required by a law enforcement authority—against Pillai. In return, the government wants her to give in writing that that she will not depose before the UK parliamentary committee.

March 2015: The Delhi high court allows Pillai to travel and sets aside the look out circular. “You cannot muzzle dissent in a democracy… Citizens can have different opinions of development policies,” the court observes.

April 2015: The Indian government bars Greenpeace India from receiving foreign funds with immediate effect. It suspends the NGO’s FCRA licence for six months and freezes its accounts for “prejudicially” affecting public and economic interests of the country.

In all, seven bank accounts are frozen. Greenpeace challenges the decision at the Delhi high court.

May 2015: Greenpeace India says that it is likely to shut down operations in the country because it is running out of money. “Freezing of our domestic accounts was not just arbitrary but also illegal,” Greenpeace India executive director Samit Aich says.

June 2015: Greenpeace gets a reprieve from the Delhi high court. The latter allows the NGO to operate two bank accounts, using which it can now accept fresh domestic contributions to help with its day-to-day functioning.

In the same month, a former worker of Greenpeace India alleges rape and sexual harassment by her former colleagues, leading to further scrutiny of the NGO.

August 2015: In a press release, Greenpeace says that its “legal team has learnt that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has notified the Delhi High Court that Greenpeace’s FCRA registration has been cancelled.”

“This news comes just a day before a scheduled hearing at the Delhi High Court that was examining the merits of MHA’s arbitrary action,” the statement adds.

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