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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 31, July 26, 2014

Blacklisting NGOs: Fixing Party Agenda as the National Agenda

Saturday 26 July 2014, by Barun Das Gupta

Last month (June) the Intelligence Bureau (IB) submitted a report marked SECRET to the Union Home Ministry about some NGOs which, the IB alleged, were “making concerted efforts to ‘take down’ Indian development projects”. The activities of these NGOs, the IB said, had ended in a retardation of the GDP growth rate by two to three per cent. More specifically, it charged the NGOs with organising campaigns and movements against nuclear and coal-fired thermal power plants with the money they received from foreign donors. Some Western countries, the report said, were trying to subvert India’s development programme. It needs to be mentioned that the IB undertook the probe at the behest of the then Manmohan Singh Government.

As the report was submitted to the Home Ministry, it was simultaneously leaked to the press—not just its contents but the original report. Photo copies of the report were published by newspapers. The NGOs named included the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) of eminent social activist Medha Patkar (is an andolan or movement an NGO?), the Greenpeace and the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL).

Medha Patkar and her NBA have been conducting a relentless battle against the Narmada Dam Project which has already displaced several lakh rural people, mostly farmers. Immediately after the leaking of the report, it was announced that the government had decided to raise the height of the Narmada dam by another 17 metres, displacing many more lakhs. Medha was again vocal in protesting. The Greenpeace is among those organisations which have been opposing the Kudankulam nuclear power project. The PUCL has been at the forefront of public protests against acts of state terrorism like false encounter deaths, firing and killing people without provocation, slapping false police cases and detaining people without trial for years, etc.

The immediate effect of the IB report was the cancellation of clearance of foreign contributions to the Greenpeace. Surveillance was mounted on some others with a view to intimidating them.

The institution of the inquiry and the report submitted by the IB make one point clear. A political party enjoying power at the Centre at a given point of time has the right to set its own agenda, its own model of development as the national agenda and national paradigm of development and ram it down the people’s throat.

 Opposition to such a programme, according to the ruling party of the day, amounts to anti-national activity and possibly being a traitor to the country. This attitude is incompatible with a democratic polity in which people elect their representatives every five years and along with the change of the ruling party the economic policy and ideals and models of development may change. Just because a party is in power it cannot pass off its own methods and goals of development as the objectives and goals of the whole nation.

The opposition to big dams and nuclear and coal-fired thermal plants is based on cogent grounds. Big dams destroy forest, displace people from their lands and occupations and lead to ecological degeneration. Coal-based thermal plants add to the rise in carbon emission (which is already alarmingly high) and its inevitable concomitant—global warming and climate change. Nuclear power plants are opposed for a host of reasons—from the potential danger of an accident like Chernobyl or Fukushima with its disastrous consequences and the safe and permanent disposal of the highly radioactive nuclear waste coming out of the atomic reactors.

The half life of Uranium 238 is about 4.47 billion years and that of Uranium 235 is 704 million years; that of Plutonium 238 is 87.7 years, of Pu 239 is 24,000 years and of Pu 240 is 6560 years; and that of Thorium 232 is about 14 billion years. (Pu 239 is used as fuel in nuclear power plants.) ‘Half life’ means that at the end of this period the level of radiation becomes half but radiation does not cease and the level of radiation even at that level is lethal. Due to the atmospheric weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s, already there are several tonnes of plutonium in the Earth’s biosphere. (Here I am not going into the details of how nuclear wastes are stored and the long-term problems they pose—problems that have defied solution till now.)

Now about the charge that the NGOs are opposing these projects at the behest of some Western countries who are interested in reta-rding India’s economic development. The charge defies logic and commonsense. Manmohan Singh got India into signing a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the US which helped lift the nuclear embargo imposed on India following the Pokhran II nuclear tests. The road was now clear for the US (and later other countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group) to sell millions of dollars worth of nuclear fuel, reactor and other equipment at a time when the US and other European countries are turning away from nuclear power generation. After Fukushima, Japan has also taken the same path.

No nuclear power plant has been permitted to be built in the USA after 1974. After the accident at the Three Miles Island in 1979, even some planned projects were cancelled. France topped the list of countries in the world in generating nuclear power. It was creating acute pollution problems but it stuck to the nuclear power programme. But the Fukushima disaster of March 2011 opened the eyes of the French policy-makers. A debate ensued. After a year-and-a-half, France changed its policy. It decided to reduce the share of nuclear power in total power generation from 75 per cent to 50 per cent by 2025. In September 2012, Japan announced it was going to end its reliance on nuclear power in thirty years. It planned to close down all its fifty functioning reactors by 2030.

So the West is turning away from nuclear power generation. The manufacturers in the Western countries of reactors and other equipment for nuclear power generation are facing a bleak future. They may not like to run the immense risk of running nuclear power plants in their own countries but they want to do brisk business in nuclear power generation in Third World countries which they trust. And India fills the bill eminently. So they want to sell India everything necessary for generating nuclear power—from fuel to reactors. But no, they will not take the radioactive nuclear wastes. For disposal of this waste India will have to fend for itself as best as it can. The mentality is the same as that of dumping drugs that have been banned in their own countries in the Third World countries. I distinctly remember the Chairman of the Indo-US Business Council saying at the time when Manmohan Singh was trying to clinch the civil nuclear cooperation deal with the US that if the deal went through, it would create 27,000 jobs in the US.

In the circumstances only an imbecile can think that the Western countries are financing movements against nuclear power projects in India by funding Indian NGOs. The Intelligence Bureau is certainly not run by imbeciles. So what is the real purpose of targeting the NGOs and questioning the patriotism of eminent social activists like Medha Patkar? What is the big game behind it? Is the premier intelligence agency of the Centre allowing itself to be used as a tool of the ruling party to suppress those who question the wisdom of going in for nuclear power and organise people’s movements against such extremely hazardous projects? Is it a mere coincidence that para 6 of the secret IB report is a word for word reproduction of what Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat had said in September 2006?

And finally, why is there not a probe against the NGO which is the recipient of the largest dose of foreign-donation, namely, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh? According to a report published in a New Delhi weekly, “many of the NGOs affiliated to [the RSS] are among the 13,000-odd NGOs in India that received some Rs 11,546 crore in 2011-12 as per the information furnished by the Ministry of Home Affairs”. The report remains uncontradicted.

The whole sordid business of targeting some select NGOs proves that Manmohan and Modi hold identical views on the model of develop-ment and the methods of dealing with those opposed to such a development paradigm.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.