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Jul
28

India’s NGO Backlash

Editor’s Note: On July 10, 2014, the Indian Government presented its draft budget to the Indian parliament.  This draft budget grants revenue officials the power to revoke the registration and tax exemptions of any nongovernment organizations or charitable institutions that violate the country’s complex tax rules. There is press speculation that this budget provision is related to a report produced by one of India’s domestic intelligence services.  This report denounces the country’s NGOs as fronts for foreign interests that are undermining India’s development. The leaked report claims that NGOs are responsible for a 2 to 3 percent loss to economic growth.

Although the report names dozens of activists and organizations, it singles out Greenpeace as a “threat to national economic security.” The report alleges that Greenpeace is using its “exponential” growth in terms of “reach, impact, volunteers, and media influence” to “create obstacles in India’s energy plans.”

India prides itself on its respect for democratic values. So why are civil society groups under attack?

By Ram Mashru

Foreign Policy

July 10, India’s recently elected government presented its draft budget to Parliament. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s speech underwent the usual flurry of analysis — most of which, however, glossed over a particularly insidious detail. Should it become law, the budget will grant revenue officials the power to revoke the registration and tax exemptions of any nongovernment organizations or charitable institutions that run afoul of the country’s complex tax rules. The measure spells disaster for India’s civil society organizations.

The budget proposal follows the furor over a report produced by one of India’s domestic intelligence services that denounces the country’s NGOs as fronts for foreign interests that are undermining India’s development. The leaked report — which claims that NGOs are responsible for a 2 to 3 percent loss to economic growth — was handed to Narendra Modi, India’s new right-wing prime minister, days after he took office, and it was circulated to a number of government ministries, prompting fears of an official clampdown.

The report bemoans the disruption caused by NGOs in sectors spanning industry, technology, and natural resources, and it comes just as India’s new government has pledged to fast-track applications for major construction projects. The coincidence exposes a clear commercial motive: NGOs in India have been particularly active in campaigning against large projects that are environmentally devastating. The report discredits this long and successful history of activism just as India’s government has given the green light to firms seeking to exploit the country’s natural and industrial potential.

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