“Hope India Won’t Start Using State Power To Muzzle Civil Society”

South Africa-born Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International since 2009, believes civil obedience to be a much greater problem than civil disobedience. “People too readily accept government policies and pronouncements,” says the man who took part in anti-apartheid protests in South Africa at the age of 15 and scaled Arctic oil rigs. Civil disobedience is a way of protesting against unjust laws, he tells Lola Nayar in an e-mail interview after his organisation came under attack. Excerpts:

The Intelligence Bureau report alleges that Greenpeace is creating an environment to stall development projects in India. Your reaction?

Greenpeace is for development and clean energy. We are for ecological farming that feeds people without ruining the soil or putting small farmers out of business. Greenpeace is a global campaigning organisation, and climate change has no boundaries. I hope India will not turn to using state power to muzzle civil society.

But you and other NGOs are accused of using foreign funds to serve Western strategic interests….

On the contrary, Indian and foreign industries are spending huge sums of money, far more than any NGO, on lobbying for their interests, and against the interests of people. The Greenpeace campaign for the rights of indigenous communities over forests in central India would have no impact if those communities believed the current system was actually good and delivering what they need.

What are your sources of funding in India?

Greenpeace India has approximately 3,00,000 individual financial supporters. These are people who have contributed on a monthly or annual basis in amounts ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand rupees. We do not accept money from corporations or governments. We do accept money from philanthropic foundations but not from corporate foundations. Our funds raised in India currently account for about 61 per cent of our annual income. The remaining 39 per cent comes from international sources, almost entirely from Greenpeace International.

How have you used foreign funding in India?

Primarily in the area of renewable energy—a working solar energy unit has just been set up in a rural area in Bihar to showcase the fact that renewable energy is a viable alternative to bring electricity to millions that have not received it via the national grid or coal-fired power plants.

Don’t you have a line drawn between environmental concerns and development objectives?

“The timing of the leak is certainly a matter of concern. From afar, it seems indicative of things to come.”

Greenpeace ran a global campaign to challenge the IT industry to come up with ambitious solutions for addressing climate change. We demanded that they set an aggressive timeline to phase out certain toxic substances. Apple at first rejected our demands but in the end they led the way for eliminating hazardous substances from their products. An Indian company, WIPRO, was amongst the top companies in the leaderboard in being progressive on phasing out toxics and cleaning up their energy resource.So, what do you think prompted India’s Intelligence Bureau to submit such a scathing report on NGOs, Greenpeace in particular?

The timing of the ‘leak’ is certainly a matter of concern. From afar, it seems indicative of things to come. But this is also a massive opportunity for civil society to come together and speak in one voice to be able to challenge the powers-that-be—whether state or corporate—in the larger interests of society.

Are you suggesting the Indian government is sacrificing environmental concerns and the forest and land rights of people?

The World Bank has indicated in a recent report that environmental costs could be as much as 5.7 per cent of India’s GDP—so I hope that India doesn’t put short-term profits for a few corporates over the health of its people and environment.

How different is the NGO/civil society scenario in India compared to that in Russia, Canada, among others?

In Russia, there is limited tolerance of any kind of dissenting voices, with activists often put in jail for what many would describe as exercising their right to free speech. In large parts of Europe and North America, civil society is accepted as an important part of the fabric of society but for example, in both France and the UK, civil society has recently been spied upon by both governments and corporations. In the UK, police spies have been planted in civil society groups while in France, the French nuclear industry has been spying on Greenpeace.

In Canada, Greenpeace has faced accusations of damaging the national interest because it has questioned the highly polluting practice of extracting oil from tar sands.

As our natural resources start to dwindle further, Greenpeace will no doubt find itself under intensified attacks. Companies and governments are trying to access the last drops of oil on the planet from places like the Arctic and they see Greenpeace as standing in their way.



“Hope India Won’t Start Using State Power To Muzzle Civil Society” | Lola Nayar.

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