The Delhi High Court yesterday unblocked Greenpeace funds that were frozen by the Ministry of Home Affairs in June last year, declaring the act as arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional. The Court observed that the NGOs can’t be alleged to be working against public interest, merely because they do not act in consonance to the views of the Government.
While allowing the environment activists’ plea seeking a release of Rs 1.87 crore sent by its parent organization, justice Rajiv Shakdher noted there was “no material on record to restrict” Greenpeace India from “accessing its bank account,” or to explain why Greenpeace International was on the government watch-list.
In June 2014, the Government had barred Greenpeace from receiving foreign funds from Greenpeace International and Climate Works Foundation. MHA had reasoned that restrictions have only been placed on Greenpeace India receiving funds from Greenpeace International, as the latter was on a watch-list. However, no further material was brought to the Court’s notice, against Greenpeace International.
In the absence of any such documentation to prove the allegation, advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing Greenpeace, stated before the Court, "The Centre has not given any reply to the said representation," the counsel contended, adding that "through a clandestine method, which is unknown to the rule of law, the government cannot adversely affect the rights of Greenpeace and in abuse of the powers, cripple the activities of Greenpeace, which it has been doing in protecting the environment/ecology, which is in larger public interest and courts have accepted the environmental principles at par with what has been laid down internationally".
MHA blocked remittance of Greenpeace funds, following a report by the Intelligence Bureau, which had pointed fingers at non-Governmental organizations, and activists, campaigning against projects, such as coal mining. The IB report had accused these entities of working against national interest. The Petition filed by GPIS hence alleged that the Government had taken action "without any rhyme or reason and without complying with the provisions of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)".
In the months that followed, the environmental NGO saw travel restrictions being imposed on its personnel. Greenpeace India campaigner, Priya Pillai was restrained from boarding her flight to London on January 11. She was on her way to address British parliamentarians about the legal and human rights violations in Mahan, where London-registered Essar Energy hopes to build a coal mine. She however stuck to her commitment and addressed a gathering of British Parliamentarians at the Parliament in London on January 14.
The Court, in September, had issued a notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs, directing that Greenpeace India’s blocked funds be moved from RBI’s account to the NGO’s FCRA account with IDBI Bank. The money had to be put in a fixed deposit until October 10.
Greenpeace is considering this is a triumph for democracy and free speech. According to Samit Aich, Executive Director of Greenpeace India, “This is a vindication of our work and the role that credible NGOs play in support of India’s development. The court has deemed the government’s action as unconstitutional and has upheld the legitimacy of the issues Greenpeace takes up in India,” said Samit Aich, Executive Director.
“The Court’s decision has come at a crucial time when sections of the government seem determined on harassing us and other NGOs. We are glad that the court ruled that the government’s actions were malafide and had absolutely no basis in law. This is a strong signal from the judiciary that the government must cease its campaign of harassment of civil society,” he added.
Read the Order here