Greenpeace has said several times in the past one year that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has made attempts to “silence” the organisation and challenged its right to campaign for a better India. According to Greenpeace, the ministry has been repeating some its arguments, even though it has “submitted clear, well-articulated responses to each, several times over”. In the following excerpts, we reproduce point by point rebuttal by Greenpeace to MHA arguments:
MHA: Greenpeace shifted the office and activities from Chennai to Bengaluru without approval of the Ministry.
Greenpeace: Like any organisation, we have one registered office, and that remains in Chennai. But we also need offices in many different places so we can run environmental campaigns with many different communities, and in different parts of the country. Our offices at Bangalore and Delhi serve different purposes, but in no way does this count as a change of our registered office or a violation of the declaration given in the application for permanent registration. The address of the Registered office is shown in the Annual Reports. In fact, the MHA has conducted an inspection of our records in the Chennai office itself.
MHA: Foreign Contribution opening balance for 2008-09 was reported as Nil in the auditor’s certificate but was actually Rs.6,60,31,783.
Greenpeace: The correct amount was mentioned in our online submission of accounts, in all the calculations shown on the sheet and accurately reported in the closing balance for the year. Yes, in one place, on one piece of paper, there was a blank left instead of the right number. Simply put, our auditors made ONE typo! But there was no intent to ‘hide’ any information as is being alleged. Oh, and while we’re talking of typos… in MHA’s own notice to Greenpeace, the foreign contribution has been shown as Rs 20,89,661 instead of the correct figure of Rs 2,08,96,661. Goes to show that typographical errors do occur!
MHA: Greenpeace funded legal costs, not only for seeking bail, but also for filing writ petitions of an associated Indian NGO.
Greenpeace: Greenpeace is a campaigning organisation that believes in taking nonviolent direct action. Acts of bearing witness to, and raising the alarm against environmental crimes are at the core of our work globally and nationally. Our donors who believe in our work and support it from their own pockets, do so after having made sure they know where their money is going. Spending money on legal costs, or putting it in security deposits so that our activists are able to follow the legal process, is part of this work and certainly does not come as a surprise to our donors.
MHA: Greenpeace transferred foreign contribution to employees of Greenpeace Environment Trust (GET), when it is prohibited to transfer funds from a registered FCRA NGO to a non FCRA registered NGO without the approval of the CG and admitted by Greenpeace before the Income Tax Department.
Greenpeace: This is the phantom of all allegations. This never happened and Greenpeace certainly never ‘admitted’ to this before the IT Department. The MHA has not explained on what basis it has arrived at this conclusion. And each time we have asked the MHA for clarifications, we haven’t received any answers.
MHA: Greenpeace transferred various amounts of foreign contribution to other bank accounts from FCRA utilisation account.
Greenpeace: The allegations around transferring money between local and foreign accounts are exaggerated, and being made to sound suspect. Greenpeace India made these transfers either to make advance payments or to reimburse payments already made. These are not violations of the law.
MHA: on August 19, called a Greenpeace official to explain their replies on the show cause notice issued to it, but that this person merely referred to the reply sent earlier, instead of explaining things.
Greenpeace: Yes, because they already had the information they needed, but were asking for way more information than the Court Order required… For example, they demanded detailed information about every one of Greenpeace India’s donors! Besides, all the other information had already been presented to MHA, either during their inspection of our office or in the writ petition that was filed in the court. Specifically with respect to queries on the Fixed Deposits, Greenpeace representatives have provided detailed information, including proof of creation of each of the FDs from Indian donations.
MHA: Greenpeace paid foreign activist Greg Muttitt a salary in Euros and did not report the detailed thereof in the returns filed to the Government.
Greenpeace: Greg was in India on a short term deputation or secondment, while he continued to be on the payroll of Greenpeace International and was receiving his regular salary from them. During his presence here, he only received amounts as reimbursement for expenses incurred (for example amounts spent on food, accommodation or travel). To claim that Greenpeace India has paid Greg Muttit approximately 56,000 Euros is patently false. The salary he received from Greenpeace International for performing his job, does not fall under any of the definitions of articles/securities/currency needing to be declared under FCRA 2010.
MHA: Greenpeace spent more than 50% of Foreign Contribution on administrative expenditure without the prior approval of the Central Government and this is sustained by the orders issued by the income Tax Department.
Greenpeace: 1976 or 2010: Which law should apply? The MHA can’t seem to decide whether they want to judge us under the old version of the FCRA regulation (1976) or the new version (2010, enforced 2011), so they take whichever one is most convenient to their case against us. The law regulating foreign contributions changed in 2010.The distinction between kinds of expenditure–administrative or otherwise, did not come about till 2011, but the MHA doesn’t let that stop them from applying it retrospectively, to expenditure that happened before 2011! (The only way we could have kept to the 2011 legislation is if we had a time machine!)
Besides, some of the alleged expenditure is unspecified – when we saw it in the MHA Inspection Report, we asked for more details so we could offer a clarification… but there has been no response from them yet. For the record, Greenpeace India did not spend more than 50% of its international funds on ‘administrative’ costs; our campaign activities are worth way more to us than printer cartridges or new chairs! In fact, in the years 2011-12 and 2012-13, we have only spent 16% and 12% respectively on administrative costs as defined by the 2010 version of the FCRA.
MHA: Greenpeace replaced 50% or more of the executive committee members without obtaining prior approval of the Ministry.
Greenpeace: This is priceless! Like with any organisation, yes, about 50% of our executive committee members have changed… but over TEN YEARS!! According to the law, we would have had to seek permission from the MHA if Greenpeace India were to change more than half of its Board members at one go. But since that never happened, we didn’t think they cared. (And we certainly weren’t obliged to inform them by law!) At all times we kept the Registrar of Societies informed of all retirements from and new appointments to the executive committee.
MHA: In light of all of the above, we have decided to cancel Greenpeace India’s FCRA registration.
Greenpeace: Not fair. Not justified. But not the end of our world. This is, of course, patently unfair and unjustified, and we are challenging the decision in court. But international funds amount to only about 30% of our budget; the rest, we raise in India, thanks to the thousands of Indians who support our work. Cancelling our FCRA registration will minimally impact Greenpeace in its ability to take on more work but it will certainly not deter the organisation from delivering on its commitments. Just as the Indian govt has an important role to play in the geopolitical arena, Greenpeace India has an important role to play in global campaigns for a sustainable planet. Reducing our foreign funding only means that we need to rely even more heavily on our domestic donors to fund our campaigns for a more sustainable planet. But we have their support, and our work will continue!