India’s environmental war are heating up.
On Thursday, India suspended Greenpeace India’s ability to receive foreign funds and froze its bank accounts on Thursday, the latest in a series of run-ins the global green watchdog has had with the government here in the past five years.
The government said the group had "prejudicially affected the economic interest of the state."
In recent months, the group has mounted a massive protest to block coal mining project in central India, even as the government is trying kickstart a number of stalled industrial projects across the country. A secret intelligence agency note, leaked to the local media last year, had called the group’s activities a threat to “national economic security.”
An official in the government told the NDTV 24x7 news television on Thursday that Greenpeace had done “very little field work” and had also violated rules about how to spend foreign funds it received.
“This is a smear, pure and simple, said Greenpeace India’s executive director Samit Aich in a statement. “A campaign is being waged against dissent, but we will not be cowed.”
The group said that nearly 70 percent of its funding comes from tens of thousands of Indian donors.
In January, Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace activist was barred from boarding a flight to London to speak to British lawmakers against the project and alleged human rights abuses of the tribal people in the region.
The Delhi High Court in March ordered the government to remove Pillai’s name from the no-fly list and expunge the entry in her passport saying “offload.”
The court added that "the state may not accept the views of civil rights activists, but that by itself cannot be a good enough reason to do away with dissent."
Activist groups working against coal-fired power plants and other infrastructure projects have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of diluting environmental rules and making it easier for businesses to buy land and set up factories. Modi came to power a year ago with the promise of reviving Asia’s third largest economy and break business bottlenecks.
But this is not the first time activist groups have faced government criticism in India. India's tolerance of foreign-funded activist groups has shrunk steadily.
In 2012, the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had accused American and Scandanavian groups of obstructing the commissioning of a nuclear power plant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and mounting a campaign against genetically modified crops. Singh accused the foreign groups of not appreciating “the need for our country to increase the energy supply.”
In 2013, the government suspended the permission of a large network of 700 NGOs – working for the rights of tribal people over their mineral-rich land, human rights and against nuclear energy -- to receive foreign funds.
On Twitter, some defended the government’s decision.
Even when countries like Canada, NZ revoked Greenpeace charitable status, India basically gave NGOs like Greenpeace free rein.
— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) April 9, 2015