The home ministry’s stand that Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai, who was offloaded from a London-bound flight, had violated the law by trying to travel on a ticket funded by Greenpeace UK may not hold water.
The home ministry issued a look out circular (LOC) against Pillai on grounds of national security, saying Pillai’s travel violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act because she was trying to fly on a ticket funded by Greenpeace UK despite a home ministry bar on the NGO receiving foreign contribution.
But the stand contradicts what the home ministry told the Delhi high court in October last year and also FCRA provisions.
Firstly, the law does not treat foreign funding to meet travel, boarding and lodging costs as foreign contribution but regards it as foreign hospitality instead. And the only people who need the government’s nod to accept foreign hospitality are judges, members of political parties, legislators and government officials.
If this were not the case, every Indian travelling abroad on seminars, conferences and official trips paid for by a foreign source would have had to run to the home ministry for approval before reaching the airport, said Greenpeace programme director Divya Raghunandan.
The government’s stand that Pillai violated the law by receiving foreign funds despite restrictions imposed on Greenpeace India was also not supported by a home ministry affidavit in the high court last October.
In this affidavit, the home ministry denied Greenpeace India was restricted from receiving foreign funds. What the home ministry had done, the affidavit said, was instruct the Reserve Bank of India to only release foreign contribution received for any NGO from Greenpeace International and Climate Works Foundation after its approval.
Greenpeace India “is at liberty to get funds into its accounts from other foreign donors which are not on the watch-list of this ministry, home ministry director Ashutosh Kumar Sinha, said in the 9 October 2014 affidavit.
A home ministry spokesperson refused to comment.