(Written by Megha Bahree)
16 June 2014 - The Indian Express newspaper revealed last week that India’s Intelligence Bureau had submitted to the newly formed Narendra Modi-led government a classified document identifying several foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are “negatively impacting economic development”.
The report, according to the news account, says, “A significant number of Indian NGOs (funded by some donors based in the US, the UK, Germany, The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries) have been noticed to be using people centric issues to create an environment which lends itself to stalling development projects.”
What exactly does that mean?
A few pages of the report seem to have been conveniently scanned and leaked online (you, too, can see them here) help explain, “these include agitations against nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants, genetically modified organisms, mega industrial projects (POSCO and Vedanta), hydel projects (at Narmada Sagar and in Arunachal Pradesh) and extractive industries (oil, limestone) in the North East. The negative impact on GDP is assessed to be 2-3% [per annum.]”
POSCO India, subsidiary of Korean giant POSCO, has been trying to set up a $12 billion steel plant amidst protests in the southeastern Indian state of Odisha for nearly a decade. Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Resources had tried for several years to mine bauxite in the same state in an area called Niyamgiri Hills amidst protests by tribals.
The IB doesn’t explain the math that led to the conclusion that 2-3% of possible GDP growth is lost because of these alleged activities.
The report adds: “Identified foreign donors cleverly disguise their donation as funding for protection of human rights, “just deal” for project-affected displaced persons, protection of livelihood of indigenous people, protecting religious freedom etc. These foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of Western governments.”
The dreaded “foreign hand” is back. Indian governments are pretty good at raising the bogey of the foreign hand, including the Congress-led UPA government which had hinted that it was the Americans who were behind the once hugely popular anti-government protests led by social activist Anna Hazare. At the time Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi had said: ”Anna is alone. He has no organization. Then how did this movement start and grow? Who are these people spreading the word on internet and telephones; the way video message was recorded prior to arrest.”
It’s mind boggling that governments–left or right, clearly it doesn’t seem to matter–fail to understand that at least some people could actually lose their homes and livelihoods because of giant projects and, guess what, may not want them.
Globally civil societies are concerned about the impact of projects like nuclear power plants, giant industrial projects and extractive industries, so why shouldn’t Indians be concerned as well? Why is it illegal, unethical, unpatriotic or debilitating to the GDP growth to question these projects? Instead of focusing so much on the disruption caused by protests, maybe governments should spend some time trying to understand why people are upset, what bothers them about these projects, are the companies doing everything in a legal and ethical manner or are they rushing through using coercion (a common trend in many such projects as I have reported multiple times) and if these projects are so important for so-called national development, what can be done to address these concerns first and then carry on with the projects?
For their part the NGOs, too, should be transparent about their source of funds. Under Indian law only those organizations that are registered with the Foreign Contributions Registration Act are eligible to receive funds from foreign donors. Some companies whose infrastructure projects have come under such public scrutiny have alleged that it’s the work of rival companies. Transparency on source of funds will end any such defense tactics and keep the focus where it’s needed — on any project-related concerns and alleged misconduct.
But coming back to the contents of the report, it’s broken down into clear categories: anti-nuclear activism, anti-coal activism, anti-GMO activism. And each of these categories further lists the different NGOs that have been involved in protests against those projects, the monies received by them, sources of those funds, where those monies were spent and their plans for this year. The report also names of people who have led or been involved in some of these projects and who, at times, have been denied visas to India or have been deported.
And while it mentions several international organizations like Amnesty International, Action Aid and Netherland’s Cordaid, the one organization that gets a lot of its attention is Greenpeace International and Greenpeace India. The IB report alleges Greenpeace India “is using foreign funds to create protest movements under a “Coal Network” umbrella at prominent coal blocks and coal fired power plant locations in India. It adds that Greenpeace India is “assessed to be posing a potential threat to national economic security.”
In a statement to the press Greenpeace India has rubbished these claims and has said that a lot of the facts are misrepresented and that the intent of the campaigns are deliberately misunderstood and that this is a conscious attempt to crush and stifle opposing voices in the civil society.
That’s pretty scary stuff. It’s 2014. Not 1984. But it might as well be.