Greenpeace India may be forced to close its offices and eliminate staff following actions of the Home Ministry to restrict access to funds held in Indian banks.
In early May the government suspended Greenpeace’s license to operate and froze all its accounts, alleging that the NGO had “misused its foreign funds for political activities which prejudicially affected the country’s public and economic interests,” according to a report in the Indian Express.
Greenpeace is among 10,117 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cited for violating India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act ( FCRA ). The government initially ordered a temporary suspension and later revoked licenses to operate for failure to account for foreign contributions.
The request was made in October 2014 seeking financial returns for the years 2009-12. Only 229 NGOs responded. The action is similar to orders in 2012 that led to the cancellation of 4,000 licenses, most of which were later re-instated.
Since 2012 activists, led by Greenpeace, have focused media attention on the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides, some of which have been banned for decades. The result is heightened concern in Europe, Japan and North America, top export destinations that routinely turn away tons of tea that exceeds Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs).
Last August Greenpeace India released an investigative research report titled ” Trouble Brewing“ that revealed widespread use of pesticides as evidenced by residues in tea sold in the domestic market. The report implicated eight of 11 major players in branded tea.
“During the period June 2013 through May 2014 Greenpeace sampled 49 branded packaged teas from 8 of the top 11 companies that market domestically. Many of these companies also export tea to Russia, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and the United States and Canada. A total of 34 pesticides were found in 46 of the 49 samples and 29 of the total contained residues indicating a cocktail of more than 10 different pesticides. One sample contained residues of 20 different pesticides. Some of which are banned,” reported World Tea News.
The danger handling and ingesting these pesticides is well documented but harm resulting from contact with inactive and largely insoluble residue is less clear.
A similar study published by Greenpeace in April 2012 revealing pesticide residues in Chinese tea, some from banned chemicals, led to quiet reform.
India responded with a furor that threatens the very existence of Greenpeace in that country. The India Tea Board formally called into question the findings and the Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI), representing the agrochemical industry, subsequently filed a criminal defamation case against Greenpeace that will be heard June 20. CCFI is seeking 500 million rupees ($80 million) damages. The action follows a demand that Greenpeace substantiate its claims. Greenpeace refused. The complaint alleges “Greenpeace India and its members have made several defamatory statements against the tea industry as well as pesticides industry in the defamatory report. These remarks are highly defamatory to the manufacturers and marketers of pesticides in India who have suffered loss of reputation amongst their buyers, distributors and the public at large,” according to a report published in the periodical DNA India.
“The purpose behind the report is to portray the use of pesticides at the farm level and also at the processed and packaged level in tea which millions of Indians consume every day since we are deeply concerned with the health and well-being of Indian consumers and also the sustainability of production in the tea sector which employs lakhs of small growers. There is absolutely no motive or intent to defame or harm the Indian tea industry,” Greenpeace told the newspaper.