Putting Economy Over People

Published: July 8, 2014 - 16:58 Updated: July 8, 2014 - 17:04

The IB report indicting NGOs underlines the contradiction inherent in preventing human rights violations across the country and keeping the economy on the fast track

Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) report on NGO activism in the development sector, tactically leaked by the new BJP government, raises fundamental questions about some of the issues that have acquired global attention, including opposition to mindless mining, nuclear energy and denudation of forest cover.

This report has destabilised the civil society crowd, the vanguard of opposition to Narendra Modi since the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The IB report suggests that there are a number of foreign-funded NGOs that have been bankrolling people-centric issues to create an environment that contributes to stalling development projects. Quite clearly a policeman’s black-and-white perspective as to why agitation takes place in the country, the report rather candidly names sectors and projects that have come under the arc of NGO-sponsored subversion. These include nuclear power stations and uranium mines, coal-fired power plants (CFPP), Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), mega-industrial projects like POSCO and Vedanta, and hydel projects on the Narmada and those in Arunachal Pradesh. The IB reckons that the total loss to the GDP is around two-to-three per cent.  

The projected loss in GDP growth seems excessive. Foreign funding to NGOs is barely $2 billion, which is very small in a $2 trillion economy. Can such a small fund haul our GDP down? Also, does this really mean that the earlier UPA government, which was generally friendly towards the civil society crowd, was in fact brought down by them? The policy paralysis witnessed over the past few years, epitomised by slow environmental clearances of mining and power projects, was not really the doing of the Manmohan Singh government; true credit goes to the machinations of domestic NGOs funded by the ‘evil’ international NGOs based out of the United States of America and Europe. The report is particularly tough on Dutch and German agencies for encouraging domestic protesters against coal-based power projects, among others.

Civil society funding is not the only issue the IB finds problematic; its report interrogates the reports that many of these NGOs put together on specific issues such as human rights violations, gender violence, and so on., which shape policy-making of many western countries. The way the IB has built its case, the NGOs’ activities are subversively criminal and anti-national, and, under a hostile and sensitive regime, could attract harsh retaliation by the state. In fact, the manner in which Russian President Vladimir Putin has cracked down on civil society is held up by many tough nationalists as the correct way to deal with dissent fuelled by NGOs.

If we look at the sphere of IB’s investigation into the conduct of NGOs, it would appear that they are mostly against activities in the energy sector. From this standpoint, nuclear energy, hydel power and coal-fired power plants all attract the agencies’ ire. To give meaning to the grand conspiracy hatched by civil society against the Indian state and its policies, the report gives examples of how the anti-nuclear power agitation is funded by dubious agencies based out of the US and Germany. In its introduction, the report states that in 2011, the Koodankulam nuclear power plant commissioning was stalled due to anti-nuclear protests spearheaded by “Ohio State University funded” SP Udaykumar. The IB also came across a German national who provided a map of all the nuclear plants and uranium mining locations in the country, including contact details of 50 anti-nuclear activists who are part of the intricate network that aims to “take down” the country’s nuclear programme.

Similarly, Greenpeace and some green-focused organisations are identified as culprits when it comes to building opposition to coal-based power plants. Most of these are in the public sector space, with National Thermal Power Corporation(NTPC) bearing the major brunt. Out of the 999 power plants that Greenpeace opposes globally, 452 are in India alone. Then there are four ultra-mega-power plants and many coal-dependent industrial areas in different parts of the country, including Gujarat.

Mega-industrial plants like POSCO, Vedanta and others are facing serious opposition from global NGOs, such as Amnesty International, Action Aid and Survival International. These entities interject in the name of human rights, violence against women, caste discrimination and religious freedom. The report alleges that most of the Indian NGOs are trained and mentored by western NGOs, and reveals the US strategy of building deniability by creating “transit funding models” for funding NGOs through their European partners in Denmark and Scandinavian countries. This means that the larger objectives of the US government are met through the European NGO network. Earlier, the agendas of choice used to be anti-dam, caste discrimination, human rights, and the like. In more recent years, the agenda has shifted to what is called “growth-retarding campaigns” against extractive industries.

The report also shows how foreign funds are used to build activists and consequently use their work to shape policies. In some cases, the report says, the funds are procured by the NGO, articles are commissioned and a PR agency is retained to build a media profile. Later, awards are procured from a foreign country that makes it difficult for the government to oppose their point of view in policy-making. Although the report shies away from identifying any of the NGOs who have prospered by adopting this practice, it is not too difficult to point to some of the worthies that have taken this route to fame.

While the IB has every right to make these allegations to strengthen the hands of the government in implementing its policies, what remains unclear is whether funding a just cause undermines the quality of the cause. It comes down to this: isn’t there merit in anti-child labour NGOs compelling children to go to school rather than sit in pits to work the loom? Similarly, the abominable conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh would not have changed if western NGOs had not applied pressure. On the flipside, as soon as one imposes western standards in the workplace, then profits fall, and—to some extent—so does the GDP. How should the IB or any government determined by utilitarian logic perceive these contradictions? Should it overlook manifest violation of human rights and local labour laws to ensure that economic objectives are met or slash demands for equity and just workplaces on the altar of speedy economic growth?  


The IB report indicting NGOs underlines the contradiction inherent in preventing human rights violations across the country and keeping the economy on the fast track
Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

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