June 20, 2014 2:49 pm

India tightens controls on foreign funding for Greenpeace

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Greenpeace activists form a chain by interlinking their hands to blockade the headquarters of India's Tata group in Mumbai August 20, 2008. Greenpeace claims that a port being built by the Tata group in Orissa would kill rare Olive Ridley turtles and other marine life and should be shut down. REUTERS/Arko Datta (INDIA)©Reuters

Greenpeace activists in 2008 protest outside Tata Group headquarters in Mumbai

New Delhi has tightened controls on foreign funding for Greenpeace India, part of a wider crackdown on environmental groups as a new government comes to power, promising to revive investment and economic growth.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has instructed the central bank that any transfer of funds from Greenpeace International and ClimateWorks Foundation, two overseas contributors to Greenpeace India, will need individual approval, according to a government spokesperson.

The move reflects wider suspicion of a so-called “foreign hand” in policy making. Overseas donors are perceived to be using non-governmental organisations to influence development and investment projects in India.

Samit Aich, executive director of Greenpeace India, said he had yet to receive any formal notification from the government on the decision. “The least they need to do is inform me,” he said. “I continue to be amazed at this entire thing.”

Greenpeace India maintains that it has complied with government regulations and declared foreign donations in full.

The decision comes shortly after a report by India’s Intelligence Bureau, which claimed that foreign-funded NGOs were “stalling development projects” in sectors from nuclear power to trade in palm oil. The agency estimates that such “agitations” reduce India’s economic growth by 2-3 per cent per year.

“These foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports, which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of western governments,” the report said.

Several activists see the report as the latest signal that the fraught relationship between campaign groups and the government is set to deteriorate as Narendra Modi, India’s new pro-business prime minister, takes office in New Delhi.

“The input of the report basically is . . . designed to criminalise dissent and that would, in effect, strike with the roots of democracy,” said Binayak Sen, a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, one of the organisations mentioned in the Intelligence Bureau report.

Industry analysts believe the crackdown on NGOs could be a precursor to wider reforms designed to favour big business. In its election manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata party pledged to promote industry in India by cutting red tape and simplifying clearances.

“Given the might of the new dispensation and not just their keenness to flex their muscles but also the pressure they are under from the people that sponsored their ride to power . . . I think this is the first of a series of incidents,” said one Mumbai-based broker.

Although contributions from Greenpeace International are an important source of funding for Greenpeace India, Mr Aich said that the NGO had a strong base of supporters in India and that new controls on foreign funding would not affect operations.

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