A common thread binds the four environmental organisations whose foreign funding has been stopped by the government for the time being. Based in the United States with limited presence in India, all four — Avaaz, Bank Information Centre (BIC), 350.org and Sierra Club —have campaigned against the use of coal as a source of energy, or have questioned individual coal mining or coal-based power projects.
Last month, the home ministry, invoking provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, directed the Reserve Bank of India to stop foreign funds coming into accounts operated by these NGOs.
While it is not clear what FCRA violations by these organisations had been detected, official sources told The Indian Express that the government was inquiring whether their accounts were being used to transfer money to other NGOs, specifically Greenpeace, whose own foreign funding was squeezed last year.
One of these organisations, 350.org, has been sent a questionnaire on one of its accounts in India. The organisation denies that any of its accounts has ever been used to transfer money to Greenpeace.
Responding to queries over email, May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said: “We haven’t made any transfer from 350.org to Greenpeace in India. We also have not been asked any questions by the government about our connection to Greenpeace. We will continue to provide information about our work to help protect climate and promote a clean energy future for India and the rest of the world.”
The other three NGOs said they have not received any communication from the government about their accounts being stopped from receiving foreign funds.
The four organisations, which are quite well known in the United States and on the climate change and clean energy circuit, have very small presence in India and have been working only for the past few years. Sierra Club, in fact, does not have a representative or an office in India and is known only to work through partner organisations.
But each has campaigned or supported a campaign against the use of coal in India and specific thermal power projects, apart from supporting other causes as well.
Working mainly on issues related to climate change, 350.org has been in India for the past four years, operating through four ‘consultants’. The 350 figure refers to the amount, in parts per million, of carbon dioxide in atmosphere that is considered safe upper limit for avoiding catastrophic effects of climate change.
The organisation has been active in “raising awareness” on climate change issues, and believes that “India’s dependence on coal as a source of energy is detrimental to the lives of her people and also the future generations”.
Its most visible campaign till now, however, has not been specific to coal. Last year, it organised the People’s Climate March in Delhi, the Indian leg of a global event, in the run-up to the climate change summit organised by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the third week of September. About 3,000 people participated in the march. Greenpeace and Avaaz also collaborated in the march.
Bank Information Centre, which started in the United States seeking transparency from development banks, specifically World Bank, and other multilateral funding agencies, does not organise campaigns. It only claims to provide information to people affected by a specific project about the kind of impact it would have on them. It says it does so by accessing publicly available project information, including such information as lending conditions by financing banks, and facilitating its dissemination among locals.
BIC’s most prominent intervention has been in Tata Power’s 4000 MW Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) near Mundra port in Gujarat, more commonly known as the Tata Mundra project. The BIC claims to have highlighted, among other concerns, the impact of the project on the fishing community. The project has been completed and all five units of 800 MW each have gone into production.
Avaaz, founded by Ricken Patel, a Canadian with Gujarati roots, espouses a number of causes, including women’s issues, conflict mitigation, corruption, poverty, and GM-free agriculture. It helped the social media campaign of the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement as well, and was an active partner in the People’s Climate March organised by 350.org globally.
Last year, Avaaz campaigned against Adani Group’s coal mining venture in Australia. It ran an online signature campaign and claimed to have collected tens of thousands of signatures against the project. The project has faced trouble, the latest being a court challenge in Australia filed by an environmental group earlier this week.
Sierra Club happens to be one of the oldest and most well-known environmental groups in the world, having started in 1890s, and has run several successful campaigns in the United States. The group has campaigned extensively against the use of coal, highlighting the adverse health impact of coal-burning in several individual communities in the US.
In India, it has no direct presence but is known to have partnered with some organisations which have run campaigns against coal.
In an email response to queries, Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club’s International Representative, said: “One of Sierra Club’s major goals is to promote the transition from dangerous fossil fuels to clean energy solutions that create jobs and reduce pollution. Therefore, we monitor US government financing of projects and institutions that may affect those goals at home or abroad, as well as work to promote clean energy solutions.”