Greenpeace India will have to shut down within a month if the home ministry doesn’t de-freeze its domestic bank accounts blocked since early April, its chief Samit Aich announced on Tuesday.
The environmental NGO, which has been under attack from the Modi government, said Union home minister Rajnath Singh should recognise the impact of his “arbitrary” offensive and the “very dangerous precedent” that it set.
“Every Indian civil society group is now on the chopping block,” Aich said, a week after the government cancelled the registration of nearly 9,000 NGOs for not filing their annual returns for three years and ignoring its notice.
Preparing its 340 employees for the distinct possibility of a shutdown, Aich told staffers that the organisation didn’t have money to pay them salaries from 1 June.
The home ministry last month froze seven Greenpeace India bank accounts because of alleged flaws in the manner in which the organisation maintained its books, sent reports and spent money.
For example, the Centre said administrative expenses accounted for more than 50% of the NGO’s expenditure of foreign funds in two years. The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act requires NGOs to take the Centre’s permission if they breach the 50% cap.
The 9 April order has crippled the NGO because the home ministry not only froze its two bank accounts used to receive foreign funds but also its five domestic accounts too.
A Greenpeace official said they paid employees their salary and paid their rent for two-months as soon as they heard about the freeze. The banks took a few hours longer.
Greenpeace India says it mobilises 70% of its budget from domestic donations – most of its from south and western India – and is not as dependent on foreign funds as it was a couple of years back.
It, however, has been unable to receive domestic funds because bankers have been reluctant to open a new account. “They haven’t refused but they haven’t opened a bank account either,” the Greenpeace official said.
But Aich hasn’t given up yet.
In a statement, Aich said, “We have one month left to save Greenpeace India from complete shutdown, and to fight the MHA’s indefensible decision to block our domestic accounts.”
A home ministry official brushed aside what he called was an attempt by Greenpeace to mobilise public opinion, saying it would have been useful if it had instead, responded to the home ministry show-cause notice.
Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai, who won an earlier battle with the home ministry that had prevented her from travelling abroad, said she was worried about her future.
“But what worries me much more is the chilling message that will go out to the rest of Indian civil society and the voiceless people they represent.... If Greenpeace India is first, who is next?”
Action against the environmental NGO was followed by similar curbs on the Ford Foundation in April that came after an intelligence report last June blacklisted 188 NGOs for allegedly working on the orders of foreign powers to undermine India’s economic growth and tarnish its image globally.
The IB document that was first reported by HT, however, was slammed by activists who said the checks were an attempt to muzzle dissent.
India has a vibrant civil society that comprises over two million registered NGOs, many of which are vocal critics of government policy and excesses by security forces, but agencies point out the sector is largely unregulated and fear many activists have a vested interest in jeopardising development projects or helping insurgents.