There is nothing called protest-creation: Aich

Greenpeace India has faced the government’s wrath. Government says it obstructs country’s economic development and questions its finances and other activities. Samit Aich, Executive Director of Greenpeace India, shared his views with me. Excerpts:

SAMIT AICH

There are so many NGOs operating in India. Why Greenpeace is being targeted?

It is for the government to say. But if you ask me, it could possibly because we have asked the right questions at the right level. Some of the campaigns we run had asked fundamental questions and this perhaps have made them extremely worried. So they started targeting us. Greenpeace is made out to be an ideologue or icon of what is wrong the way they see it. It will also send a chill factor or fear factor to many other NGOs and civil society. Therefore, in one stroke, they will get the message across. But I do not think this is not the right way to address the issue. It is a bad step.

Government argues that foreign funded NGOs are hindering economic development. What is your taking on that?

These are all arguments or statements that are not substantiated. We should debate what we mean by national security, economic security and stuff like that. Merely repeating those lines would not mean that those were right or true. Several IB reports and other documents keep coming out from time to time, which the media gets incidentally much before we get to see it or read. I think the issue of development needs to be debated. Greenpeace clearly works on clean air, we talk about forests, food and sustainable environment. Every organisation and individual has the right to have a definition on what is development. Trusting one line on development and terming everyone differing with it as -national is wrong. It needs to be contested.

One of the gravest allegations is that Greenpeace use foreign funds for protest-creation. How do you respond to it?

First, let me clarify that in the last financial year, over 70 per cent of the funding came from Indian citizens in India. Second thing, there is no such thing called protest-creation. Protests cannot be created. Situation leads to organisations and people coming together to defend their democratic rights. It is wrong to assume that protest-creation can happen only by international funds. It has to be completely debunked as a myth. India has a history of protests. We got independence through protests in the most non-violent form. It is also wrong to assume that people of India do not have brains of their own and need money and international brains to decide whether to protest some wrong done to them. This is a crude statement and needs to be contested. The government clearly has a different definition of development, which is heavily pro-corporate instead of being pro-people, and is seeking to dismiss any criticism of its actions as protest-creation.

The notice to you says there are discrepancies in accounts, foreign funds were misused.

We will respond to every point raised by the government. We believe that the government allegation is not right at all. As an organisation, we believe in high level of transparency. Our auditors have assured us that we have not violated any FCRA rules. All the foreign grants have been deposited into the designated bank account and transfers for utilisation are made into the FCRA approved account only. Payments listed by the FCRA division in their show cause notice are to third parties or reimbursements to local accounts, which is within the law.

Government report says salary given to some Greenpeace employees is very high and it is against the spirit of charity.

FCRA has no right to decide on whether the salary is high or low. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has no mandate on what salary we should take. As an organisation, we believe that our people need to be paid reasonably well. When we decide on the salary of people in India, we determine that it needs to be viable. In fact, Greenpeace India’s secretariat staff’s salary is the lowest among international NGOs operating in India. That is a deliberate attempt. We believe that as an organisation, we have to be responsible. The MHA response seems to make us believe that those working in NGOs need to lead their lives like destitute and creep and crawl to make a living. That is wrong. What is high or what is low is subjective and the MHA has no right to contest it. Greenpeace believes that the issues the MHA raised on salaries and consultancies are absurd, as it does not substantiate how this is a violation of the FCRA. If the donors have no problem, then nobody else should have a problem.

Has the FCRA become a weapon in the hands of government to tame NGOs?

Absolutely. The law itself is quite draconian. It is used in the most arbitrary manner. What we are facing currently is an example.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on Apr 19, 2015)

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