Indian environment minister dismisses claims of charity crackdown

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 09, 2015 2:02 AM

By C.K. Nayak

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's environment minister has dismissed claims of a crackdown on green charities, saying that the government valued the role of civil society groups working to protect the country's people, wildlife and forests.

Last month, more than 170 charities wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming his government was trying to muzzle foreign-funded non-profits that spoke out against industrial projects such as coal mining and power plants.

Greenpeace India, which is currently involved in a legal battle with the government, says it in particular has been targeted. In the last year, some of its bank accounts have been frozen, staff restricted from travel and offices raided.

Over the weekend, an Australian staff member Aaron Gray-Block who had valid travel documents, was barred from entry by immigration at the Bengaluru airport and told he was on a blacklist.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said his ministry "had nothing to do with it" and that different ministries had done this for "the internal security of the country".

"We value NGOs' participation," Javadekar told a news conference on Monday.

"We have conducted a workshop recently and a consultation meeting of more than 125 NGOs who are working in the field, with the masses, in forest, in wildlife and many other things."

Since Modi swept to power almost a year ago, his right-wing nationalist government has tightened surveillance on foreign-funded charities.

It says some had violated the law by not disclosing details of their donations, or used overseas money to engage in "anti-national" activities.

Charities reject the accusations and say authorities are exploiting an opaque law on foreign funding to silence dissent.

In April, the home ministry canceled the licenses of almost 9,000 charities and blocked the bank accounts of Greenpeace India, which has led campaigns against genetically modified crops, coal mining and nuclear power projects.

Greenpeace has said that a lack of funds could force its shutdown.

The Delhi High Court in May allowed the group access to two of its seven blocked bank accounts to collect domestic donations, extending a lifeline to the organization.

(Writing by Nita Bhalla, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)