In a more than a decade of campaigning Greenpeace India has had a very unusual past one and half years. The organisation has been labelled as “anti-national”, with conspiracy to hinder the development of the country.
In June 2014 India‘s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) blocked the organisation’s international funding. In January 2015 Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace campaigner, was stopped from travelling to London, United Kingdom to present her case in front of British parliamentarians. And most recently in November 2015 Greenpeace India was ordered to shut down, following a cancellation of their registration by the government.
Each time against the clampdown by government, courts rescued Greenpeace. On January 20, Delhi High court ordering to unblock international funds also mentioned that the “action of the MHA is arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional”. On 11 March a Delhi High Court lifted the travel ban on Pillai, calling the Home Ministry’s decision to ban her from travelling to the UK “undemocratic“. Finally, questioning the authenticity of fraud charges brought against Greenpeace in November 2015, a Madras High Court “temporarily halted” registration cancellation.
Here’s why Greenpeace’s work in India is so important.
India is an emerging power. Many developed countries have extended a warm hand towards the country, a market of 1.21 billion people for business and investments. Technology is entering into every sphere of Indian life. We are much smarter and branded people than before. Our poverty rates are falling rapidly. Development is the only vision, mission and chant of modern India.
However, we also have many problems. We are one of the most polluted countries in the world. Many of our rivers, which are of historical and religious significance, are dirty. The food we eat is chemically driven. Over usage of pesticides are contaminating land and ground water. And as of now our energy mix is still carbon intensive, with 60.7% of electricity come from burning coal.
Emissions are a major contributor of global warming and the effects of it are already visible in India.
The country faces more frequent droughts and flooding – often both at the same time. The World Bank has estimated the loss $80bn or about 5.7% of GDP due to environmental degradation.
When we have two extreme ends – the aggressive push for development and excessive environmental damage – the role of NGOs and civil society becomes more important than ever. These groups exist to find the right balance between development and environmental protection.
Greenpeace India is one such organisation striving to maintain the right balance. To achieve its goals, Greenpeace actively works with affected communities, farmers, researchers, ministries, experts and corporates. To safeguard the environment and the rights of people it often questions the government on laws and its implementation, while challenging corporates to put “people before profit”.
Here are three examples that demonstrate Greenpeace India’s work over past three years.
Dharnai: Greenpeace creates India’s first solar-powered village
Even 68 years after independence, India is far from providing uninterrupted energy access to all citizens. There are about 18,000 villages with no electricity, and some without energy infrastructure. With the support of BASIX and CEED, Greenpeace India created Dharnai as a replicable model as to what all villages should look like.
Along with light came security, independence and a sense of empowerment for this tiny, ignored village.
Located in the state of Bihar, Dharnai is a small village that had no electricity for almost 30 years. On 20 July 2014, Greenpeace India launched 100 kilowatt of solar micro-grid. The move was commended by current Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar, who visited the site. While the village is carbon-free, it is also decentralised, which means it has no dependence on the central grid system.
I am Mahan: The fight to save a forest from corporate greed
Mahan is the forest located in central India. It was so enormous at one point that it was named as the Mahan, or ‘Great’, forest. According to the Wildlife Census of 2006, Mahan is Asia’s oldest Sal forest and is home to more than 600 species of wildlife animals. Alonside them, indigenous people from 52 villages have been directly or indirectly dependent on the forest for generations.
Mahan had coal beneath it, which made it a business venture for the Essar and Hindalco company.
Greenpeace, along with indigenous people, campaigned to save the forest but it was also a fight for community rights to the forest and a fight for their livelihoos. More importantly, it was the fight for existence.
The fight to save the forest of Mahan also demonstrated new levels of corporate greed. It took four long years to save the forest before it was declared as no-go zone for mining.
Kedia: Eco-farming and eliminating chemical use in agriculture
Traditionally India is an agricultural nation. Agriculture and allied sectors contribute 13.9% of Indian GDP ( 2013 -14). A large majority of rural households are dependent on agriculture as a main source of income. Out of 1.21 billion people, nearly 70% lives in rural India. Despite the heavy reliance on agriculture, the conditions of farmers are far from satisfactory.
More than 3,000 farmers committed suicide in past three years alone. While failure of crops and a vicious debt cycle are the common reasons, heavy dependence on chemicals add to the problem.
In the village of Kedia, Greenpeace is creating a chemical-free, eco-farming model. Like Dharnai, Kedia is a small village in the state of Bihar and, like most villages, were involved in the chemically driven agriculture practice. Acting as a facilitator, Greenpeace helped farmers make organic pesticide and fertilisers, linking them with state government schemes.
Now the farmers of Kedia have started to adopt this practice and for some this will be the second year crop without the use of chemicals.
Greenpeace’s work isn’t restricted to rural India. In urban India, the organisaton has been campaigning for clean air, safe food and sustainable development. With confidence, Greenpeace India will continue its campaigning on environmental issues. As the saying goes, “Then they will fight with you, then you win”.