Greenpeace wins: HC orders govt to free arbitrarily blocked funds

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the central government to ''unblock'' around Rs1.87 crore of funds of international environmental group Greenpeace India that the Centre has frozen.

The funds were blocked by the Reserve Bank of India following a June 2014 home ministry directive, which Greenpeace challenged in court – successfully, as it appears from the HC order (See: Govt blocks flow of foreign funds to Greenpeace, other NGOs).

The court said the ministry showed "no material to restrict access" to the funds received by Greenpeace from its Amsterdam headquarters.

Observing that the home ministry's action was arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional, Justice Rajiv Shakdher rejected the government reply that the NGO could access all foreign funds except those from Greenpeace International, which has been put on a ''watch-list''.

The judge said, "According to me, there is no material on record to restrict the petitioner (Greenpeace India Society) from accessing the bank account with IDBI Dank in Chennai," Justice Rajiv Shakdher said, ordering that ''the amount in fixed deposits in the bank be unblocked and transferred to the NGO's account".

The court also observed that no material was put on record against Greenpeace International.

It said that NGOs are entitled to their viewpoint, and merely because this might not be in consonance with that of the government's, it didn't that the NGO is acting against national interests.

The Indian government, be it the previous Manmohan Singh-led UPA or the now ruling NDA under Narendra Modi, is clearly paranoid about international organisations looking into its rampant environmental and social destruction.

Earlier this month, a senior campaigner for Greenpeace was stopped morning from boarding a flight to London where she was to brief British MPs on the rights of forest-dwelling communities affected by coal mining in India.

Despite having a valid visa, she was not allowed to board her flight; airport authorities cited a government directive without saying who had issued it, or under what rules. Increasingly, India is looking like a mock democracy, where citizens can be bullied without reason (Greenpeace worker barred from leaving India; no official reason).

In June last year, an Intelligence Bureau report to the government alleged that Greenpeace India was misusing foreign funds to hamper the country's economic growth (Greenpeace harming India's economic security: IB report).

The home ministry then directed the Reserve Bank of India to put on hold all foreign contributions originating from Greenpeace International and Climate Works Foundation meant for Greenpeace India.

The supposedly autonomous RBI was also asked to take permission from the ministry's FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) department before clearing any foreign aid to Greenpeace India.

The directive put on hold direct funding of the NGO from abroad since each transaction has to be cleared on a case-to-case basis by the RBI.

Greenpeace India Society (GPIS) alleged in the court that the action taken by the central government was without any reason.

The court said the inspection in the matter has already been carried out by the home ministry, and they have produced no material on record against Greenpeace International or its Indian arm.

"So at least at this juncture it is not good enough to hold back Greenpeace India from using their account," the bench said.

The court observed that all NGOs were entitled to have their viewpoints, and merely because their views are not in consonance with that of the government's, it does not mean they were acting against national interest.

The court order came during hearing of a petition filed by Greenpeace India alleging that the government has taken action "without any rhyme or reason and without complying with the provisions of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)".