ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Strategy to Quash Dissent

It is not foreign funds but uncomfortable questions that the government fears.

Is the Narendra Modi government cherry-picking which non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to target and destroy or at least paralyse? Or is it raising legitimate questions about the accountability of foreign-funded NGOs? If it is the latter, then the way it is going about it is decidedly odd. Few will question the need to set up structures of accountability and transparency in organisations handling large funds, including those that come from outside India. But the government appears less concerned about transparency and more about the issues these organisations have chosen to raise. It has focused on two categories of NGOs: those raising uncomfortable questions about the environmental fallout of some of India’s energy choices, particularly nuclear and coal, and groups highlighting human rights concerns, especially around the Gujarat 2002 violence. If these NGOs happen to be partly funded from foreign sources, then inevitably the government spots a conspiracy threatening “national security.”

Within a month of the Modi government taking office, an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report was leaked to the press. It identified 188 NGOs receiving foreign funds that were involved in agitations against nuclear plants and uranium mines, coal-based thermal plants, genetically modified crops, industrial projects such as POSCO and Vedanta in Odisha, the dams in Arunachal Pradesh and extractive industries. Oddly, the list included the Nobel Prize winning Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF), accusing it of “links with Maoists and their sympathisers.” More predictable was Amnesty International, singled out for questioning India’s human rights record. But most of the report’s ire was reserved for Greenpeace India, an affiliate of Greenpeace International. Greenpeace has spearheaded the opposition to the $3.2 billion Mahan Coal Limited, a joint enterprise of Essar Energy and Hindalco, in Singrauli District, Madhya Pradesh. The project will destroy 1,000 sq km of sal forests and displace a large number of families. In January, Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was offloaded from a flight to London where she was to testify before British parliamentarians on the Mahan project (Essar Energy is incorporated in the United Kingdom). Although Greenpeace has won a reprieve through the courts, the government has cancelled its Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) clearance that permits it to receive foreign funds.

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