Greenpeace India: 'Govt Actions An Attack On Democracy And Free Speech'

21/04/2015 6:36 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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The new Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior (the third one to hold the name) on her maiden voyage to the UK. All port arrangements were handed by Gravesend based shipping agents Wavecrest Ltd - www.wavecrest.co.uk

NEW DELHI — Members of civil society came together to condemn the NDA government's recent crackdown on organisations like Greenpeace India. Releasing a protest letter that over 180 organisations and citizens have today sent to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the statement declared the crackdown as 'shameful' in a country that has a history of standing up for social justice, ecological sustainability, and the rights of the poor.

"It is shocking that despite clear judicial pronouncements, the government has for a third time acted against Greenpeace India. We cannot but conclude that this is an attempt to divert attention from the serious issues that Greenpeace India and many peoples' movements and NGOs are raising, regarding the need to respect the rights of adivasis and others, who depend on the forests, wetlands, coastal areas, and other ecosystems, and the need to move towards policies that are ecologically sustainable and do not cause further climate change," the letter states.

"Large-scale mining, such as in the areas that peoples' movements are active, are a threat to forests and other natural ecosystems, to communities that depend on them including tribal peoples. These and other issues are highlighted by organizations such as Greenpeace India, which also generate significant information on the environment, crucial for taking the right decisions regarding sustainable well-being," it added.

Responding to a new development of the MHA's alleged request to the Revenue Department to revoke the NGO's charity status and society registration, Samit Aich, executive Director, Greenpeace India called it an "orchestrated attack on free speech, Constitutional rights and India's democratic fabric."

"The new line of attack questioning the charity status of Greenpeace has no more justification than blocking foreign funding or offloading Priya Pillai. Greenpeace India has nothing to hide and will continue to campaign for a sustainable and just future for Indians. Such attempts of clampdown only make us stronger," he said.

Civil society activists including Medha Patkar, Achin Vanaik, Harsh Mander, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Bittu Sehgal, Ashish Kothari, Lalita Ramdas and many others, called upon the government to immediately stop its illegitimate and repressive moves, and respect the freedom of speech that all Indian citizens have a constitutional right to.

Here's the full text of the letter below.

"The move by the central government to freeze Greenpeace India’s bank accounts and block sources of funds, is a blatant violation of the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association. It also seems to be an attempt to warn civil society that dissent regarding development policies and priorities will not be tolerated, even when these are proving to be ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust. These are dangerous signs for the future of democracy in India.

Specific allegations of legal violation contained in the Ministry of Home Affairs’ notice are aspects Greenpeace India needs to respond to. However, the notice also charges the organisation with adversely affecting 'public interest' and the 'economic interest of the State'. These charges give the impression that Greenpeace India is indulging in anti-national activities, using foreign funds. However, dissenting from the government’s development policies, helping communities who are going to be displaced by these policies to mobilise themselves, and generating public opinion for the protection of the environment can by no stretch of imagination be considered anti-national, or against public interest. Quite the contrary, any reasonable policy of sustainable development (which the government claims to adhere to) will itself put into question quite a few of the mining, power, and other projects currently being promoted.

Civil society organisations in India have a long and credible history of standing up for social justice, ecological sustainability, and the rights of the poor. When certain government policies threaten these causes, civil society has a justified ground to resist, and help affected communities fight for their rights. This is in fact part of the fundamental duties enjoined upon citizens by the Constitution of India.

In two recent court judgments involving previous attempts by the government to muzzle Greenpeace India, the democratic principle of dissent has been upheld. In January 2015, the Delhi High Court observed: 'Non-Governmental Organizations often take positions, which are contrary to the policies formulated by the Government of the day. That by itself…cannot be used to portray petitioner’s action as being detrimental to national interest.' In March, the Delhi High court observed that 'contrarian views held by a section of people…cannot be used to describe such section or class of people as anti-national.' The court also observed that there was nothing on record to suggest that Greenpeace India’s activities 'have the potentiality of degrading the economic interest of the country'.

It is shocking that despite these clear judicial pronouncements, the government has for a third time acted against Greenpeace India. We cannot but conclude that this is an attempt to divert attention from the serious issues that Greenpeace India and many peoples’ movements and NGOs are raising, regarding the need to respect the rights of adivasis and others who depend on the forests, wetlands, coastal areas, and other ecosystems, and the need to move towards policies that are ecologically sustainable and do not cause further climate change. Large-scale mining, such as in the areas that peoples’ movements are active, are a threat to forests and other natural ecosystems, to communities that depend on them including tribal peoples. These and other issues are highlighted by organisations such as Greenpeace India, which also generate significant information on the environment, crucial for taking the right decisions regarding sustainable well-being.

It is also shocking that while alleging violations regarding FCRA, the government ordered the blocking of even those accounts where Greenpeace India uses its domestic funding (and it is relevant here to note that the majority of its funds according to its audited accounts are from thousands of Indian individuals). It has even blocked its online donation facility.

The government should immediately take back these illegitimate, unfair, and repressive moves, and provide Greenpeace India a fair opportunity to respond. More generally, it must respect the freedom of speech that all Indian citizens have a constitutional right to, including the right to dissent, upheld by court judgments. The government’s attempts to browbeat civil society will not make the issues of social and environmental injustice disappear. We assert that long as these issues remain unresolved, civil society actors will continue to do all that is necessary towards a just and sustainable society."

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