Column: In defence of Greenpeace

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Updated: Jun 14 2014, 16:40pm hrs
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) report on the operation of foreign-funded NGOs (FFNGOs, hereafter) has rightfully created a stir, and debate, in India. I have actually read the report in all its gory detail. The report documents allegedly nefarious and anti-development activities of FFNGOs with regard to nuclear energy, mining, e-waste, etc. The IB report boldly concludes, in highlights , The negative impact on GDP growth (caused by the activities of FFNGOs like Greenpeace) is assessed to be 2-3 % p.a..

As readers of this column know, I, along with several others, have been documenting, in some detail, the steep decline in GDP growth in India over the last few years, whose magnitude, co-incidentally, is almost identical to the decline attributed by IB to a few FFNGOs. Some questions require an answer. How realistic is the IB assessment How truthful is the analysis How professional, in an academic sense, is IB's discourse on the subject

In my opinion, the only legitimate issue, whether with foreign or domestic NGOs or foreign or domestic individuals or foreign or domestic institutions, is if any law is broken. Unfortunately, in its 21-page report, the IB is silent on laws being broken, but explosive in wearing its own righteous ideology on its ever-so-arrogant sleeve. The IB report is also tight-lipped on the large probability, or indeed reality, that several very Indian institutions, and indeed several UPA government officials and ministers, agreed whole-heartedly with the economy-stopping recommendations of the FFNGOs.

Indeed, the present ruling party voted with the Congress on economy-destroying legislation such as the Land Acquisition Act and the Food Security Act. So, who is more at fault if fault is presenta mere FFNGO advocating a policy or a not-so-mere UPA government and the political parties who supported the enactment of very bad legislation Further, how does the source of funding (evil foreign hand) matter Surely, it is the execution of a policy that is most relevant.

Some of the institutions that have received funding from Greenpeace include respected names such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, and IIT-Delhi. Some of the Indian institutions mentioned in the IB report which agree with the FFNGO recommended ban on Bt cotton are the Parliamentary Standing Committee (August 9, 2012) and the Technical Expert Committee(TEC), appointed by the Supreme Court (October 7, 2012). The report also alleges that FFNGOs are making efforts to debunk the Gujarat Model of Development.

Some disclosures are in order. I had argued against the opposition to the Narmada dam as far back as the late 1990s. At that time, activist and leader and novelist Arundhati Roy had published a pamphlet alleging that over 50 million people had been displaced in India because of dam construction. I offered an elaborate set of calculations (later published in an academic water journal) which indicated that individuals displaced by dams were no more than 3 million, i.e., Roy, and other anti-dam activists, were exaggerating by more than 15 times the true number. Over the last two years, I have published several articles suggesting that the so-called Gujarat model of development does stand up to scrutiny, and that Gujarat, under Modi, has been tops in economic growth, nearly tops in poverty alleviation of disadvantaged social groups (Muslims and SC's) and tops in poverty alleviation of the STs. In terms of other social indicators, (education, infant mortality) the progress in Modi's Gujarat has been comparable to the rest of India.

What is quite clear is that my research has led me to quite the opposite conclusions as advocated by some foreign FFNGOs, and some domestic NGOs. I had also helped Rahul Mehra and Prashant Bhushan in their successful fight against the biggest NGO of them all, the BCCI. Thanks to policy reform, BCCI no longer has the status of an NGO. I might also add that I had vehemently disagreed with the AAP's destructive policies with respect to water and power supply in Delhi.

The IB report alleges that India's economy has suffered 2-3% of loss to the GDP per yearat today's levels, that is approximately R2-3 lakh crore with the midpoint being R2.5 lakh crore. The IB is diligent in documenting how much money the allegedly bad NGOs have received from 2005-06 to 2011-12. The amount received by bad NGOs, hold your breath, has been close to R55 crore per year; generously, let us assume the estimate to be nearly twice that, R100 crore. Now, the pitiful margin of R100 crore has gone into the hands of utter geniuses who have made a loss to India (by their research, lobbying, and demonstrations) of 2,500 times their original investment. Both Roy and even the CAG turn out to be infinitely better economists/accountants than the IB.

One final point on the IB report and the reaction of some. India's leading news anchor Arnab Goswami berated SP Udayakumar, of the Peoples Movment Against Nuclear Energy for producing only 20 research papers from the $40,000 he received from Ohio State University. Goswami weighed in that R1 lakh per research paper was a lot. I wonder what world TV anchors live in to think that R1 lakh is anywhere near a lot for a research paper. Perhaps, if we knew how much TV anchors get paid for each sentence they speak, we are likely to find out that it is more than Udayakumar got for each research paper.

The IB report is a failed flunkie report no matter what the assessment criteriadocumentation, logic, analysis, inference or conclusions. It is an obscenely foolish report. It is a huge disservice to the new Modi-BJP regime. While the IB might think that they are speaking His Master's Voice, my guess is that it has grotesquely misjudged the new master. Perhaps it is not their fault they have been used to a very different master for the past decade. Let the IB get itit is no longer business as usual.

I welcome all NGOs, research organizations, and governments who follow the rule of democracy and law. If any of them wants to fund me for research, they are welcome to do so. Given ideological preferences of most FNGOs, I am not holding my breath. But law-abiding NGOs, foreign or domestic, are an asset to any society because they enlarge the debate via research and advocacy.

The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company. Twitter: @surjitbhalla