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Greenpeace India activists dump toxic sludge from the Asanikunta Lake in Medak District on ineffective pollution regulators in Hyderabad. Photo: Greenpeace India via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
Greenpeace India activists dump toxic sludge from the Asanikunta Lake in Medak District on ineffective pollution regulators in Hyderabad. Photo: Greenpeace India via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
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Greenpeace India faces closure in weeks

The Ecologist

7th May 2015

Greenpeace India has barely three weeks left to fight for its survival following a broad government crackdown on civil society. The green NGO has been left with funds for staff salaries and office costs that will last no later than 1st June.

Why are 340 people facing the loss of their jobs? Is it because we talked about pesticide-free tea, air pollution, and a cleaner, fairer future for all Indians? The government is trying to strangle us by stealth, because it cannot impose an outright ban.

The Executive Director of Greenpeace India, Samit Aich, this week warned his staff to prepare for the imminent shutdown of the organization after 14 years in the country.

The warning came after India's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) blocked Greenpeace India's bank accounts to incoming payments on 9th April.

That has left it unable to collect membership dues and donations from its 77,000-strong membership within India.

"I just made one of the hardest speeches of my life, but my staff deserve to know the truth", said Aich in a published statement.

"We have one month left to save Greenpeace India from complete shutdown, and to fight MHA's indefensible decision to block our domestic accounts."

As reported on The Ecologist, the government also suspended Greenpeace India's registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, and unleashed a smear campaign accusing the group of "anti-national" activities aimed at preventing India's 'development'.

Greenpeace India has barely enough cash left in its accounts to pay its staff and office costs for another month, and ses little hope of preventing its imminent shutdown.

Groundless allegations of foreign funding

Following allegations over foreign funding, Greenpeace India has been the subject of a string of penalties imposed by the MHA - all of which have been overturned by the Delhi High Court.

Greenpeace India is currently preparing its formal response to this decision as well as a fresh legal challenge, however Aich is concerned that the legal process could extend well beyond 1st June when cash reserves for salaries and office costs will run dry.

"The question here is why are 340 people facing the loss of their jobs? Is it because we talked about pesticide-free tea, air pollution, and a cleaner, fairer future for all Indians?" Achi continued. "The Home Minister is trying to strangle us by stealth, because he knows an outright ban is unconstitutional.

"We ask him to confirm that he is trying to close Greenpeace India and suppress our voice. His arbitrary attack could set a very dangerous precedent: every Indian civil society group is now on the chopping block."

Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, added: "I fear for my own future, but what worries me much more is the chilling message that will go out to the rest of Indian civil society and the voiceless people they represent. The MHA has gone too far by blocking our domestic bank accounts, which are funded by individual Indian citizens.

"If Greenpeace India is first, who is next?"

Fighting for green development

Aich also challenged the Home Minister to "stop using arbitrary penalties" and confirm that he is trying to shut Greenpeace India down because of its successful campaigns on a host of environmental and social issues.

In particular, the group has campaigned for an end to India's nuclear power programme, a rapid phase out of coal in power generation in favour of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, and against the introduction of genetically modified (GMO) crops and foods.

There has also been a strong social component in its campaigns as it addresses such issues as environmental justice and the disprortionate impacts of India's strategy of rapid industrialization on the poorest and most marginalized citizens.

But this has attracted the anger of the right-wing Hindu Nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is committed to rapid economic expansion and is indifferent to the social and environmental costs it imposes.

Since taking power in 2014, the government has promised to remove 'blockages to development'. So far this has meant dismantling environmental regulations, weakening forest protection and 'fast-tracking' industrial projects, bypassing normal procedures.

Now it's clear that NGOs that protest against or challenge  dangerous, destructive policies and projects are also 'obstacles' that must be removed.

In June 2014  the Intelligence Bureau (IB) leaked a 'secret' report to the media which accused Greenpeace and over 100 NGOs and individuals of "anti-national activities" calculated to "take down" development projects.

Greenpeace then responded: "We believe that this report is designed to muzzle and silence civil society who raise their voices against injustices to people and the environment by asking uncomfortable questions about the current model of growth."

 


 

Also on The Ecologist: 'Indian government sanctions Greenpeace to send a menacing message' by Praful Bidwai.

 

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