Over the last 15 years, Greenpeace India has had some important victories. We have worked to get clean air, clean water and clean energy for the country. In doing so, we have challenged the fossil fuel industry and held some corporations accountable. Sometimes, we disagreed with the government too. This has now earned us the wrath of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
The MHA’s biggest criticism today is that Greenpeace India is ‘anti-development’. Because we don’t want to see environmental laws diluted and a vision of development that comes at the cost of forests, communities and biodiversity, we stand accused of wanting to stop India’s economic growth.
But a future that depends on fossil fuels is not the way forward, and we’ve shown that development can be brought with renewables, as in Dharnai. And we stood with the people of Mahan who wanted to protect their forest, on which their livelihoods depend rather than see it turned into a coal mine.
It feels to us that we might be facing this onslaught today because we asked some tough questions of some powerful people. Whether it was the Essar group who wanted to raze a forest for a coal mine, or Adani — the company eager to mine the Galilee basin for coal resulting in irreversible damage to the Great Barrier Reef — Greenpeace has not been afraid to speak out. But speaking out comes at a price and now we are now fighting for our right to exist.
What’s already happened to Greenpeace India?
Greenpeace India has had a dramatic time since June 2014. The Ministry of Home Affairs in India, has made a number of allegations and taken a series of steps against Greenpeace India, and we believe it will continue finding ways to make life difficult for us.
These include accusing Greenpeace India of running deliberate campaigns to hurt the economy, which are ‘anti-national and harmful to India. They’ve stopped donations from outside of India, and prevented one of our campaigners from travelling abroad. Finally, in April this year, Greenpeace India’s domestic accounts were blocked, making it impossible for Greenpeace India to pay staff wages and office costs.
What reasons do the MHA give for their actions? If you’ve done nothing illegal, surely the courts will support you?
The MHA has used shaky reasoning to justify its actions and the judiciary has ruled in our favour over and over again.
After the MHA had blocked access to funds coming from abroad we challenged them in the Delhi High Court. In January this year the court ruled in our favour – finding the MHA’s actions ‘unconstitutional, illegal and arbitrary’.
Campaigner Priya Pillai took the government to court over restrictions it had placed on her movement and travel. In March, The judge ordered those restrictions to be lifted, saying ‘you can’t muzzle dissent in a democracy.’
In April, the MHA blocked our domestic accounts – which amount to 70% of our funds – claiming that we were guilty of several legal violations. We are not. You can read all of the alleged errors and rebuttals here.
On 27 May 2015, The Delhi High Court ordered that we have access to two of the previously blocked accounts so our work can continue for now. However the case is not closed so our position remains precarious with a final hearing expected in August.
As we believe that this is not really about accounting errors and legal violations but the MHA wanting to silence us because they don’t like what we’re saying, we’d be surprised if more arbitrary attacks don’t come our way.
Greenpeace India doesn’t want to spend time fighting court cases – we want to get back to work moving India towards a more sustainable future. The sooner we can meet with the MHA to discuss how we can be part of that future the better.
For this reason we still need to stand up for the right to free speech everywhere and ask the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to do the same.
Sondhya Gupta is a Mobilisation Campaigner for Greenpeace UK.
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