NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s domestic spy service has accused Greenpeace and other lobby groups of hurting economic progress by campaigning against power projects, mining and genetically modified food, the most serious charge yet against foreign-funded organisations.
The leak of the Intelligence Bureau’s report comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new administration seeks way to restore economic growth that has fallen to below 5 percent, choking off investment and jobs for millions of youth entering the workforce.
Greenpeace denied it was trying to block economic expansion, saying the allegations were an attempt to silence dissent and that it stood for sustainable growth.
The government report is likely to intensify the debate over whether Asia’s third largest economy will pursue the path of fast growth under the Modi administration or try a more balanced strategy that the previous government sought.
It has also turned the spotlight on the role of foreign funded organisations, some of whom said they feared a crackdown by the new regime, seen as more friendly to business.
“A significant number of Indian NGOs funded by donors based in US, UK, Germany and Netherlands have been noticed to be using people-centric issues to create an environment, which lends itself to stalling development projects,” the Intelligence Bureau said.
These included coal-fired power projects, genetically modified organisms, mega industrial projects including South Korean firm POSCO’s steel plant and Vedanta’s bauxite project both in Odisha, hyro-power projects in Arunachal Pradesh, the strategic state on the border with China.
Together, the cancellation, disruption or delay to these development projects had clipped gross domestic product growth by 2 to 3 percent a year, according to an excerpt of the report seen by Reuters.
Greenpeace alone was leading a “massive effort to take down India’s coal-fired power plant and coal mining activity,” it said.
Dozens of projects have stalled in recent years because of local opposition, environmental hurdles and land acquisition difficulties. Modi, campaigning on a platform of development, promised to cut red tape and implement projects that have been approved.
India is desperate for power, and coal is expected to remain at the heart of its energy security for decades. Government-controlled Coal India Ltd has not been able to mine fast enough, forcing power producers to import costly coal from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa to bridge the shortfall.
Seventy million households - 35-40 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people - still have no access to electricity. This summer authorities in north India are battling power breakdowns and public anger as the country swelters under the longest heatwave on record.
The Intelligence Bureau said the foreign NGOs and their Indian arms were serving as tools to advance Western foreign policy interests.
“Greenpeace aims to fundamentally change the dynamics of India’s energy mix by disrupting and weakening the relationship between key players,” the IB report said.
Greenpeace said it had asked the government to share with it the intelligence report so it could defend the allegations against the organisation.
“We have a legitimate right to express our views in what is the world’s largest democracy. We believe that this report is designed to muzzle and silence civil society who raise their voices against injustices to people and the environment by asking uncomfortable questions about the current model of growth,” it said.
Greenpeace believed that India should embrace renewable energy and improve energy efficiency instead of destroying forests to access the coal underneath.
Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Jeremy Laurence