India Restricts Greenpeace, Ford Foundation Over Internal Security Concerns

May 14, 2015 Updated: May 14, 2015

Last month, the Indian government placed tight restrictions on two major international NGOs operating in the country, claiming the organizations misreported donations and funded groups not approved by the government.

Greenpeace is the biggest of nearly 9,000 nonprofits to have had its license revoked under the current government. The global activist organization has a long history of organizing protests against India’s nuclear ambitions and its coal mining, which causes widespread deforestation.

The Ford Foundation, which sees itself as operating on the front lines of social change worldwide, is on an Indian government watch list. The foundation funds organizations involved in humanitarian and civil rights activism in the country.

Greenpeace India had its license suspended for anomalies over the amount of funding it received, and how it spent the unaccounted-for donations. The American charity Ford Foundation, on the other hand, is under scrutiny for donating to organizations not approved by the state, including some, like Sabrang Communication and Publishing, that the state believes are working to smear government leaders.

The two nonprofits were charged by the Ministry of Home Affairs for violating the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010, which aims “to prohibit acceptance of foreign contribution and utilization of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality for any activities detrimental to the national interest.”

According to Nonprofit Quarterly, the 9,000 NGOs that have lost their licenses represent only a small fraction of all NGOs in the country. The magazine reports that there are nearly 1.2 million NGOs in India, and that this sweeping move to regulate them is necessary to weed out defunct organizations. The previous government also revoked the licenses of over 4,000 NGOs.

However, the article also raised concerns over the fact that “genuine” organizations as big as Greenpeace and the Ford Foundation have also been targeted.

Freezing Greenpeace

On the Ministry of Home Affairs’ advice, the Indian government froze all seven of Greenpeace India’s bank accounts and suspended its FCRA license for six months. The order alleged that the NGO had underreported foreign contributions. When questioned over the accounts, the organization blamed a printing error.

Greenpeace released a statement saying it had not received any official communication of the order from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and that it was seeking legal counsel. It also sent a formal response to the ministry, in which it clarified doubts about its funding in detail.

Greenpeace India said at the beginning of May that due to a lack of funds, the organization would face a shutdown within a month.

Permission to Donate

The Ford Foundation is now required to obtain permission from the government to make any donations to organizations in the country.

In a letter to the foundation, the ministry said that this was to ensure that funds were not being used in a way that would threaten national security. The government alleged that the Ford Foundation had funded organizations that were not licensed under the FCRA.

One of the organizations that the Ford Foundation was funding was Sabrang Communication and Publishing, which publishes a monthly called Communalism in Combat.

The editor of Communalism in Combat is the controversial civil rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad. She is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), which is seeking the criminal trial of the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his role in deadly communal violence in the state of Gujarat.

Over a thousand people, largely part of the state’s Muslim minority, were killed during the 2002 communal riots sparked by the burning of 58 Hindu pilgrims on a train. Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, was cleared of complicity by a special investigation team in 2012, but several activists and scholars including Setalvad maintain that the government didn’t do enough to stop the violence, and have even called it “state-sponsored genocide” against the Muslim community.

The Ministry of Home Affairs added the Ford Foundation to a list of 10 other foreign-funded organizations under government watch since January. Most of these are Christian faith-based charities, including the Catholic Organization for Relied and Development Aid, and the Interchurch Peace Council.

US Government Reacts

The government’s actions have been criticized by activists and foreign delegates.

U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma warned of the “potential chilling affect” of cracking down on humanitarian and environmental activism, saying in a speech in the nation’s capital Delhi that those seeking to change India are not anti-government.

U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman also reportedly brought up the Ford Foundation issue during her meetings with senior officials in the Indian capital at the end of April. 

German Ambassador to India Michael Steiner said that NGOs were doing important work in India, and that they should be supported.