Govt vengeful against Greenpeace

The union home ministry’s action in suspending the registration of the non-government organisation Greenpeace and freezing its bank accounts is yet another demonstration of the government’s intolerant and paranoid attitude to alternative views on development and well-being. The ministry has charged the NGO with working against government policies, obstructing India’s energy plans and prejudicially affecting the public interest and economic interest of the country. Among other reasons cited for the action is the holding of talks by Greenpeace activists with Aam Aadmi Party leaders. None of these grounds is good enough to act against a group which has done much to raise public awareness about many issues having a bearing on the lives of people. Greenpeace has campaigned against the coal and nuclear-based energy policies, deforestation and other matters which affect the health and livelihood of weaker and marginalised sections.

Earlier governments, including the UPA, had also been unfriendly to NGOs and tried to harass them. This may be partly because NGOs, by definition, seek to
occupy some spaces neglected by governments and work at the lowest and smallest levels where the bureaucracy does not reach for various reasons. Governments have considered them, especially those with multinational footprints, as security threats. Exaggerated or fictitious charges of violation of rules and regulations are levelled to persecute them. The government claims that the action against Greenpeace is also based on the recommendation of security agencies. Security agencies are not qualified to sit in judgment over development policies. The attack on Greenpeace comes soon after the government’s action against an activist of the NGO, who was offloaded from a plane in Delhi to prevent her from attending a consultation in London. Quashing the government order, the court had clearly said that taking a position against the government is not being anti-national. But the government has persisted with its vengeful policy, charging Greenpeace with “campaigning, protesting and lobbying against Government of India’s policies”.

The issue involved in the hounding of Greenpeace is not just the imposition of curbs on an NGO’s conduct and advocacy positions. It has wider implications for individual freedoms, including freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Constitution. In a democracy, all individuals and organisations have the right to criticise the government’s policies and actions. There are many perspectives about development and everybody has the right to present his or her views before the people and generate a debate on them. It is such debates that give legitimacy to policies. To deny that right and to persecute people for dissent and disagreement is to be anti-democratic and authoritarian.

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