Following India's cut of foreign funding to the local branch of Greenpeace, DW speaks to Executive Director Samit Aich who also accuses the Modi-led government of weakening key environmental laws.
Earlier this month the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi blocked foreign funding of Greenpeace India and restricted some of its activities, arguing that the environmental group had violated rules governing international financial transactions. "We have evidence to prove that Greenpeace has been misreporting their funds and using their unaccounted foreign aid to stall crucial development projects," a senior government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters news agency.
Less than a week later, Greenpeace accused the government of also preventing local donors from funding its activities and claimed that the restrictions were "clear attempts to silence criticism and dissent." In recent months, the group has accused New Delhi of watering down environmental rules after it allowed industries to operate closer to protected green zones.
Aich: 'We will not only challenge the Ministry of Home Affairs in courts, but also continue to campaign fearlessly on the issues we work on'
In a DW interview, Samit Aich, executive director of Greenpeace India, accuses the government of using strong arm tactics to clamp down on dissenting voices as well as of being biased towards corporate interest. He also promises to challenged India's Ministry of Home Affairs in courts and to continue to campaign for environmental issues.
DW: Why do you accuse the Indian government of launching an attack on Greenpeace?
Samit Aich: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is trying to shut Greenpeace India down because we make life difficult for companies that wish to put profits above people and the planet.
Our recent campaigns for renewable energy, community rights to their forests and in favor of organic farming have earned us powerful corporate enemies in the coal and pesticide sectors. These same companies are known to have deep links to some in the government. So the question arises - are the MHA's unwarranted acts motivated by the government's corporate backers?
Our campaigns strive to ensure that the development model followed is holistic and sustainable. Calling this "protest creation" or a threat to economic security is clearly a part of the smear campaign against Greenpeace by certain government agencies.
There is no economic security in the absence of clean air, water, food and a livable planet. It is every citizen's right to stand up and ensure that the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution are not violated - this spirit is the very basis on which our country was founded.
The government clearly has a different definition of development which is heavily pro-corporate instead of being pro-people, and is seeking to dismiss any criticism of its actions as "protest creation."
What has the government done to prevent funding of your organization?
Greenpeace India's permission to receive money from overseas is currently suspended. This in itself does not mean that Greenpeace India itself has been shut down or will have to shut down. We get nearly 70 percent of our income from domestic donations and will continue to operate on those funds even as it fights the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) suspension.
However, the MHA has also frozen our domestic bank accounts, which receive domestic funds from our 70,000 plus Indian supporters. So not only has the government prevented us from using money from abroad, they have also blocked access to our domestic funds, which is clearly beyond what the FCRA law allows.
Has the government taken any other steps besides freezing bank accounts?
According to media reports, the government has written to the revenue department to revoke our society registration and tax exemption for donations. This is clearly an attempt by the government to shut us down completely and is an escalation of the intimidation campaign that started with a "leaked" Intelligence Bureau report in June last year.
It is the government using strong arm tactics to clamp down on dissenting voices in civil society. We have been vindicated position more than once in the courts. In March, the Delhi High Court held that the actions of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Priya Pillai case were arbitrary and the charges against Greenpeace India were misconceived.
We will not only challenge the Ministry of Home Affairs in courts, but also continue to campaign fearlessly on the issues we work on. We fully intend to continue our work in India to ensure that this generation and future generations have clean air, safe food, standing forests, community rights are implemented and the threat of climate change is addressed.
Over half of India's population live in areas where fine particulate matter pollution is above the country's safety standards
How has the Indian government justified the move?
The government blames the freezing of our accounts on "irregularities in our FCRA accounts."Our auditors have assured us that we have not violated any FCRA rules. We will be reiterating this in our response to the MHA notice. Greenpeace has been in operation in India since 2001 and we have followed the required norms under the FCRA and filed returns as prescribed.
What do you criticize about Indian PM Narendra Modi's environmental policies?
This government appears to be divided. On the one hand we have lauded it for its ambitious renewable energy targets, but on the other, it is clearly heavily biased towards corporate interests. So while PM Modi talks about promoting renewable energy, his ministers are going all out to promote coal - ignoring the need for public consultation, for respecting existing laws and safeguarding people's rights and the environment.
The government has already or is in the process of weakening key environmental laws in India - the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act, even as it tries to drastically amend laws that guarantee the legal rights of land owners and forest dwellers - the Land Acquisition Act and the Forest Rights Act. All this is being done with the objective of making it easier for companies to take possession of land, displace people and build their projects irrespective of environmental concerns.
Environment minister, Prakash Javedekar has quoted Greenpeace India figures on Delhi's air pollution in the Parliament - clearly he wouldn't, if he doubted our credibility.
Can you give is an example of this split between the different ministries?
We have contradictory signals from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Minsitry of Coal, and the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEF). For the past five years Greenpeace had been campaigning against a proposed coal mine in Mahan forests, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
'Our recent campaigns have earned us powerful corporate enemies in the coal and pesticide sectors,' says Aich
Recently the coal ministry, acting upon the recommendations of MoEF, declared that Mahan forests would not be mined as its rich forests need to be considered a "no go" zone for mining.
However, the MHA in its reports said that by opposing mining in Mahan, Greenpeace had derailed development. This was one of the justifications for its actions against us. The MHA has absurdly alleged that Greenpeace India was working to promote the interests of the UK, when we were in fact working to ensure that Indian laws were not violated by Essar Energy, a company registered in the UK.
Samit Aich is executive director of Greenpeace India.
The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.