Government Standoff with Greenpeace Escalates as Watchdog's Registration is Cancelled

New Delhi: The run-in of Greenpeace India with the authorities seems to be showing no signs of abating as the Registrar of Societies of the State of Tamil Nadu has now cancelled its registration, prompting the environmental watchdog to state that the move was a “demonstration of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ [of the Government of India] intolerance for dissent”.

In its order cancelling of the registration of Greenpeace India Society, the District Registrar, Chennai (Central) has charged that “for the years 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2009-10, the Greenpeace India Society has not filed the annual returns within the stipulated time of six months from the date of Annual General Body meeting, in violation of Rule 22 of Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Rule 1978.”

Further, it said, during an inspection made by the Registrar on June 3, 2015 “a series of irregularities and violations of the rules had been noticed.” On the basis of the findings in the enquiry, a notice had been issued on June 16 asking Greenpeace India Society to show-cause why its registration should not be cancelled.

In its notice, the Registrar’s office had noted that “according to the result of the enquiry the society does not seem to be functioning independently but under control of [the] Stichting Greenpeace Council at Netherlands. Even the elected president of the society has to be approved by the Stichting Greenpeace Council and also only the approved person by the said council can be appointed as a executive director to look after functioning of the society.”

The notice further alleged that this society had received crores of rupees from foreign countries and that there was a discrepancy between the details of the foreign donation furnished by the society to the Government of India and that of the details furnished in the annual reports submitted to the Registrar of Societies “which suggest fraudulent dealings”.

“The executive director of the society has by her letter dated July 3 made irrelevant and invalid statements and sought for clarification and requested time to give her explanation. Her statement and [clarifications sought are]  irrelevant and [are] aimed at procrastination,” the official noted in the order.

Greenpeace queries Registrar’s U-turn

The executive director of Greenpeace India had responded, saying: “We are unable to understand your allegation that our society is not functioning independently but under control of the Stichting Greenpeace Council (SGC). In the report, you have referred to provisions of the Memorandum of Association to assert that the President/EG is subject to the approval of SGC. However, the Memorandum of Association was duly filed, and as per the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act 1975 it can have effect only if the Registrar of Societies is satisfied that it does not contravene the Act.”

The executive director noted that the Registrar’s office did not raise any objection when the MoA of the Greenpeace India Society was filed and also registered the society. “We don’t understand how the same provision which you approved and registered has suddenly (become) illegal.”

In response to this query, the District Registrar said “the executive director has only to give her explanation against the charge with the data available with her. Because she has nothing to refute the charges, [she] had resorted to this sort of unnecessary correspondence.”

Satisfied that “the Greenpeace India Society has contravened the provisions of the law” and “has slipped into the domain of Section of Section 37 of the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act 1975”, he said this warranted the Registrar to cancel the registration of the society.

In a statement, Greenpeace India said “while several international leaders, including the UN Secretary General have recently upheld the importance of civil society in healthy democracies, this notice is the latest assault on free speech in India.”

“Over the last 18 months,” Greenpeace India claimed, it “has endured repeated attempts at suppression through different government authorities, and prepares yet again to seek legal redress”.

Reacting to the development, Vinuta Gopal, Interim Executive Director of Greenpeace India, said: “The RoS is clearly acting under directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, which has been trying to shut Greenpeace India down for over a year now. The MHA’s clumsy tactics to suppress free speech and dissenting voices are turning into a major national and international embarrassment for this government. This is an extension of the deep intolerance for differing viewpoints that sections of this government seem to harbour.”

“The Registrar has passed this order without granting Greenpeace a hearing, and without complying with the Madras High Court order to address each of our points and queries. This is a blatant attempt to circumvent the legal process and shows no respect for the law,” she charged.

Travel curbs

Meanwhile, the stand-off between the Union Home Ministry and global environmental watchdog Greenpeace International continue, with a staff member of the organisation denied entry into India on Monday.

Earlier this year in June, a Greenpeace International member Aaron Gray-Block, who was travelling from Sydney on an Australian passport, was barred from entering India at Bangalore airport despite having a valid business visa and all necessary documents.

Prior to that, on April 9, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh had blocked Greenpeace India’s bank accounts for which the environmental group had to seek interim relief from the Delhi High Court. The MHA had accused Greenpeace of serious violations of the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act 1976.

In its order on May 27, the High Court allowed Greenpeace to operate its two accounts for receiving domestic donations.

Previously, Greenpeace India’s activist Priya Pillai was prevented from travelling to London and it was only after four months, and after a legal appeal that her ‘offload’ passport stamp was formally expunged in May.