The government recently cancelled the registration of the NGO, Greenpeace India, stating that it had continued to violate the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) norms for its activities that allegedly hindered the country’s economic growth.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had suspended the organisation’s license to receive foreign donations in April. The MHA had said that Greenpeace India ‘mixed foreign and domestic funds’ and hadn’t ‘disclosed the movement of funds properly’. The cancellation order comes just a day before the scheduled hearing at the Delhi High Court that was to examine the government’s ‘arbitrary action’. According to the government sources, the move came in the wake of “prejudicially affecting the public interest and economic interest of the state,” which violates the laws. As per the orders under the FCRA, the NGO would not be able to receive any kind of foreign donations from now on. But it stood firm in its stand saying that it would ‘continue its campaign’ despite the government’s “onslaught against the community’s right to dissent”.
The MHA in April had suspended the license of Greenpeace India citing attempts to hamper the country’s energy plans as well as campaigning and lobbying against the policies of the government. The Ministry alleged that it had violated norms by opening five accounts to use foreign donations without informing the authorities. Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was prevented from travelling to UK last January, a move which reflected the anti-NGO stance of the Centre. Even though the Delhi High Court had ruled two months later that the move was against the law, the government adamant in its stance issued a notice to the NGO for violating FCRA. Its bank accounts were then frozen on the directions from the Centre. The organization moved an application challenging the ‘arbitrary action’ of the MHA and the court lifted the ban on two of its accounts in May. But the very next day, the authorities came for an audit of its books in the NGO’s office in Chennai, Tamil Nadu where Greenpeace is registered. Irregularities in the work from 2005 to 2012 were reported and the authorities threatened to cancel the registration of the NGO. It once again approached the court and filed a plea to unblock the funds frozen by the government. The notice to cancel the registration was issued by the MHA before the day the court was to hear the government side.
Greenpeace was tracked down earlier too during the tenure of the UPA government. It was according to the government directions that the Intelligence bureau (IB) produced a clandestine report containing accusations against the NGO in June 2014. The report later became a weapon for the NDA government. They were accused of hindering the government’s developmental activities thereby causing a 2-3 per cent dip in the country’s economic growth. Following the report, Modi government banned the license of 13, 000 NGOs in two months. The organization had come under fire during the tenure of Manmohan singh as well as irked the corporate giants for its strong stand against the coal business. According to the World Resources Institute, around half of the 1200 coal mines to be newly started in the world are in India. The highly influential Adani group runs the world’s third largest coal business.
The non-governmental organizations are involved in activities that are essential for the survival of democracy. They stand up for the people and voice their concerns protesting against the anti-democratic actions against the government. The NGOs in many countries are a headache for them as they question the government policies, moves and resist the corporate interests. Therefore the governments dislike them. But not many of the democratic countries try to eliminate the NGOs. There are obviously non transparent, undemocratic and money making enterprises among them. But curtailing the right to protest and constricting the civil society space is purely anti-democratic particularly in a country like India. The factors that led to the cancellation are clearly evident. The government is applying the tactics of freezing the funds, dragging the NGO through legal tangles and discourages the banks and the donators from providing financial aid to the organization eventually aiming a closure. Irregularities that amount to severe violations of law and minor technical faults should be distinguished from each other. As far as Greenpeace is concerned, its gravest mistake is mixing foreign and domestic funds. The anti-NGO rhetoric without taking into consideration the NGO’s statements or their plea filed in the court indicates the goal of the Centre in doing so. There should be a freedom to voice the concerns, to resist and protest against the government’s high scale schemes and projects that are deemed harmful to the nature, planet and humanity as a whole and it comes under the democratic decorum. The government move is anti-democratic just as the High Court stated because the right to dissent is surely the core of democracy.