[In April, the government suspended Greenpeace India’s registration for foreign funding and froze its bank accounts. And despite the group’s assertion that its work would continue, its legal battles and lack of access to foreign funds have hit it hard, cutting its budget by about 30 percent, Ms. Gopal said. It has had to cut its staff by about 20 percent, and Ashish Kothari, the chairman of its board, said there had been “some amount of downsizing of the campaigns.”]
By Nida Najar
NEW DELHI — Greenpeace India said on Friday that it would continue campaigning for clean air and against coal mining in protected forests in the country despite the government’s revoking its permission to receive foreign donations.
In an order canceling the group’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that Greenpeace had “prejudicially affected the economic interest of the state.” Greenpeace India learned of the cancellation on Thursday.
The government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has declared economic development a priority and has been cracking down on nongovernmental organizations like Greenpeace, whose work often runs counter to its aims.
“I think all along this is not about Greenpeace alone; this is about what’s happening to the space for dissent in India,” said Vinuta Gopal, the interim co-executive director of Greenpeace India. “The clampdown has not been just against us. It’s been against a number of NGOs.”
In April, the government suspended Greenpeace India’s registration for foreign funding and froze its bank accounts. And despite the group’s assertion that its work would continue, its legal battles and lack of access to foreign funds have hit it hard, cutting its budget by about 30 percent, Ms. Gopal said. It has had to cut its staff by about 20 percent, and Ashish Kothari, the chairman of its board, said there had been “some amount of downsizing of the campaigns.”
Particularly affected, Mr. Kothari said, will be the organization’s high-profile efforts, exemplified last year by activists who scaled the Mumbai office building of an energy company involved in mining with a banner that read, “We Kill Forests.”
The moves against the group have also compelled it to change strategic course and try to increase its domestic contributions, which it receives from about 75,000 donors, even as it has had to trim its fund-raising staff because of the legal dispute, Mr. Kothari said.
In its cancellation order, the government cited a litany of accounting infractions against the organization, including misreporting of funds from abroad, infractions that Greenpeace has disputed.
The group’s public troubles with the government began in January, when one of its campaigners was barred from flying to Britain to brief members of Parliament about the adverse environmental effects of possible coal mining projects in central India. The government later said that the woman’s actions were prejudicial to the national interest and could have led to economic sanctions against India.
In May, Greenpeace took the government to court over the suspension of its registration and the freezing of its bank accounts. The court later unblocked two domestic bank accounts.
India’s actions against nongovernmental organizations have spread well beyond Greenpeace — it recently demanded preapproval of grants made by the Ford Foundation, which has given $500 million to Indian organizations over the past six decades. The government has also ordered a federal investigation of one of the organizations the foundation had funded, which is run by a prominent activist who campaigned against Mr. Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat State.
The United States ambassador to India, Richard Verma, said in May that he was worried about the “potentially chilling effect” of difficulties faced by such organizations in India. The State Department said in April that it was concerned over the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
Many in the nongovernmental organization sphere have expressed concern about the reverberations of a tightening of control over foreign funds, which thousands of NGOs in India receive.
Critics say that the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act treats nongovernmental organizations with unnecessary suspicion.
“It gives another tool to the government to constantly interfere in the business of NGOs,” said Kabir Dixit, a lawyer who represented the Indian Social Action Forum when its registration under the act was suspended in 2013, also on the grounds that its activities were prejudicial to the national interest. “The spirit of the law, it seems paranoid.”
Despite the setbacks, Ms. Gopal of Greenpeace India said she was confident that the Delhi High Court would rule in the organization’s favor in a case over what Greenpeace calls the government’s arbitrary action against it. The government’s moves, she said, are a sign that “we’ve asked the right questions of what’s happening in terms of how it’s impacting the environment.”
Swati Gupta contributed reporting.