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Greenpeace says facing death by choking

NGO says it has funds to operate only for a month, after govt froze accounts and foreign funding

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Greenpeace India said on Tuesday it has funds left for a month to pay for its staff and operations following the government freezing its international and domestic funds here.

The organisation said it was a "strangulation by stealth" by the home minister, who was using "arbitrary penalties" and should "admit that he is trying to shut Greenpeace India down because of its successful campaigns".

On April 9, the home ministry had passed orders freezing seven accounts of the environmental non-government organisation (NGO) and suspended its licence to get funds from foreign sources. The ministry had cited several infringements of the law that regulates foreign funding of NGOs - the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.

Samit Aich, executive director of Greenpeace India, said the move by the Indian government was unprecedented and in no other country had Greenpeace faced such a shutdown. "In 42 years of our operations in more than 50 countries, I don't think we have faced such a situation," he said.

In January 2015, the Delhi High Court had given relief to the NGO by reversing orders of the government that restricted foreign fund flows to it. The government had at that time referred to the NGO's activities as against national interest but had not brought specific charges.

But Aich said despite the Delhi High Court orders, the home ministry had in March blocked transmission of nearly 140,000 euros from Greenpeace International to the Indian accounts. This was before the government passed the formal orders in April. Business Standard could not verify these details independently.

The April orders of the home ministry immediately froze the accounts of the NGO, which got 30 days to make a representation against the orders. Greenpeace claimed it formally received the orders, along with the showcause notice, only on April 13, though these were put up on the home ministry website on April 9, from when the orders became operational.

Some actions by other governments against Greenpeace:
  • Russia: In September 2013, Greenpeace activists were charged with piracy in Russia after a dramatic protest on an Arctic oil rig; faced 15-year jail terms, but were eventually released; Moscow operations remain open
  • Japan: In 2008, Greenpeace activists intercepted a shipment of whale meat alleging corruption; charged with theft and threatened with 10 years in jail; given a one-year suspended sentence; office in Tokyo unaffected
  • France: In 1985, the French secret service exploded the NGO’s ship Rainbow Warrior, involved in a campaign to ban nuclear testing in the south Pacific; France first denied the action but later its defence minister resigned admitting to a cover up; officials were jailed; Greenpeace office in Paris continues to function

Aich said Greenpeace India would file a representation to the home ministry within the stipulated time and was also working to mount a legal challenge as it had done previously.

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

The group has faced legal action in various countries - mostly pertaining to specific protests that Greenpeace has carried out.

Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, who was earlier stopped by the government from travelling to the UK and later got a favourable order from the courts, was quoted in the release as saying, "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?"

In January 2014, Greenpeace activists had scaled Essar's 21-storey headquarters in Mumbai to protest against the company's proposed mine in Mahan forest, Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, marking the NGO's most high-profile moment of protest in the country.

First Published: Wed, May 06 2015. 00:57 IST