The Delhi high court on Wednesday unlocked two bank accounts of NGO Greenpeace India that were frozen by the NDA government last month following allegations that the activist group misreported foreign aid.
Telling the Centre that it could not choke the non-profit of its funds, Justice Rajiv Shakdher allowed the environmental organisation to use the accounts for its day-to-day functioning and for receiving donations from domestic supporters.
The home ministry in April blocked seven Greenpeace India bank accounts because of alleged flaws in the manner in which the organisation maintained its books, sent reports and spent money.
The court also allowed the NGO to liquidate its fixed deposits, saying these and fresh donations be used for its aims and objectives in accordance with law.
The order comes as a huge relief for the group that recently told the media it may have to shut down within a month if its funds were not released by the Centre.
“You have to release some funds... they need to pay the bills... The way of going forward is that you (Centre) release some funds,” the court told the government.
The ruling came after Greenpeace challenged the suspension of its licence under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) for six months apart from the freezing of the bank accounts.
The court, however, clarified that the organisation cannot utilise the amount frozen by the government.
Immediately after the order, the NGO in a press release said, “Greenpeace India called the interim relief a ‘lifeline’ and vowed to restart its campaigns to reduce air pollution, protect forests and boost solar power immediately.?”
Analysts see the government action as part of a wider crackdown after an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report last summer said Greenpeace and other activist groups were damaging India’s economy by campaigning against power projects, mining and genetically-modified food.
The Delhi high court had in January overturned the government’s decision to restrict funding for Greenpeace India last year after the organisation was put in a prior-approval category, wherein the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was asked to get prior sanction of the home ministry before transferring any foreign contribution to the NGO’s bank accounts.
The same month, authorities stopped Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from flying to London to brief British parliamentarians on her campaign in Madhya Pradesh, where a proposed coal mining project is allegedly threatening a local community.
The Delhi high court quashed the “lookout” circular issued against Pillai and questioned the government's move to prevent her from travelling.
The NGO had also received an Income Tax notice in March 2014, asking it to pay around Rs 4 crore. Greenpeace appealed against the order but agreed to pay 25% of the amount, about Rs 99.47 lakh.
The court on Wednesday also asked the government to decide within eight weeks a plea by the non-profit to release up to 25% of its foreign contribution, as per the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Rules.
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain told the court the home ministry was willing to consider the NGO’s application but said the group must come clean on the details of its bank accounts.
“Greenpeace has not responded to our queries,” Jain said.
Greenpeace, on the other hand, accused the Centre of trying to shut it down using FCRA while asserting that a third of its total funds come from foreign donors and the rest from domestic supporters.
The home ministry in its affidavit said Greenpeace opened several bank accounts for utilisation of foreign contribution without informing the government and alleged that “serious violations” were found against the NGO.
In its plea, the environmental NGO which has been under attack from the Modi government, contended that the suspension of licence and freezing of accounts were completely “illegal and unconstitutional”.