Greenpeace India announced last Saturday that it was closing down two of its regional offices and reducing its staff “considerably”.
The reduction in its operation comes in the wake of a severe government crackdown, owing to its alleged unlawful foreign funding practises.
For several years, the Indian arm of the global environmental NGO Greenpeace International has campaigned against controversial environmental issues. It came into the spotlight in 2011, after it helped mobilise protests against the development of the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant in Tamil Nadu.
While the crackdown on Greenpeace started during the previous UPA regime, the scale has considerably increased since Narendra Modi’s NDA government came to power.
In September 2015, its licence under the Financial Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA) was cancelled. This effectively ensured that Greenpeace had no access to foreign funding.
Then, in perhaps the biggest blow to the NGO, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided its office in October 2018 and froze its primary bank account. A combination of these factors eventually compelled Greenpeace to significantly reduce its operations.
The firm at the heart of the probe
The ED also raided a firm affiliated to Greenpeace India, called Direct Dialogue Initiatives India Pvt Ltd (DDIIPL), which lies at the heart of the probe.
The agency alleges DDIIPL was set up in 2016, after the FCRA licence cancellation, to raise and transfer foreign money to Greenpeace India, and to facilitate its operational activities. It claims DDIIPL has received Rs 29 crore in foreign direct investments from the Netherlands-based parent organisation, Greenpeace International.
“DDIIPL was created to facilitate the operational activities of Greenpeace… As on date, DDIIPL received foreign direct investment (FDI) to the tune of Rs 29 crore”, the ED said in a statement in October 2018. “DDIIPL had spent 21 crore of its expenses since inception, with no substantial revenue generated so far.”
The agency says that its allegations are based on the records received from RBI, banks, and Registrar of Companies.
The ED further alleges that a part of this amount was eventually transferred to Greenpeace India, in violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act.
The agency argues that DDIIPL was indulging in “similar” fraudulent financial activities like Greenpeace India, which are also in violation of FEMA. The ED also suspects that over the past year, most Greenpeace India employees have migrated to DDIIPL.
Greenpeace India insists that it only used DDIIPL to reach out to donors, and that the donations were directly received in its own account and did not involve DDIIPL. The NGO claims that all the money raised has come strictly from domestic Indian donors, and involves no foreign money.
“Since 2014 (sic), when its FCRA licence was suspended and later cancelled, Greenpeace India has raised 100 per cent of its funds in India. Greenpeace India is funded by thousands of individual Indian citizens,” Mike Townsley, spokesperson for Greenpeace International, told ThePrint.
“Greenpeace International invests in DDII to support the social sector with ethical fundraising services. As detailed in our annual report, DDII was set up in 2016 to provide ethical fundraising services to the social development sector.”
The competing claims regarding the transfer of funds from DDIIPL to Greenpeace India are the defining feature of the latter’s tussle with the ED. It is unclear whether the funds received by DDIIPL in the form of FDI from Greenpeace International were transferred to Greenpeace India or not.
While a host of NGOs have had to face the wrath of the NDA government, a couple of them such as Greenpeace and Amnesty India have emerged as particular targets.
Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist and former employee of Greenpeace India, questioned the government’s intent. “There is nothing bona fide about the intent of this government,” he said.
Shivraj Parshad, a consultant to Resource Alliance, a global network for fundraising and mobilisation, said there are two main reasons why the likes of Amnesty and Greenpeace have been targeted.
“First, these represent the largest international NGOs, and thus, are useful for demonstration and signalling purposes of the government. Additionally, organisations such as these ally with and often aid smaller organisations and movements across the country,” Parshad said.
“Second, over the years, campaigns run by Greenpeace and Amnesty have been very politically sensitive in nature.”
Change in the way NGOs operate
Parshad had some interesting insights on the recent developments within the NGO sector, remarking that two kinds of changes are happening with respect to how they operate in India.
First, a lot of the NGOs have created an additional ‘for-profit’ arm, which allows them to more easily move around funds globally. They continue to carry out their campaigns via the original non-profit arm.
Secondly, Parshad said organisations such as Greenpeace India have evolved over time. They are ahead of the curve and have dramatically altered the substance and methods of their campaigns.
Indeed a quick check of Greenpeace India’s recent campaigns shows that the NGO has given up on politically-sensitive campaigns and shifted to running campaigns directed towards a younger and more politically-aware audience.
Its recent campaigns involve the ‘Conservation of Bengaluru’s trees’ and the ‘Level of air quality across Indian cities’. It has also adopted a larger use of digital platforms to reach out and mobilise.
Given the recent developments, Greenpeace India will have to undergo some tough times in the foreseeable future. “Greenpeace has been doing the right thing by trying to fight the government, and there is plausibly nothing more it could have done,” said Jayaraman.
However, considering the changes in its operations, Greenpeace India could continue to function, even with a smaller bench strength.