The PM should know that agrotech and nuclear firms, rather than NGOs, are undermining the public interest.
By raising the spectre of the “foreign hand” supposedly behind protests against nuclear energy and GM food, the Prime Minister has dismissed the concerns of millions of Indians, creating a smokescreen behind which to undermine both nuclear safety and the food safety of 1.2 billion Indians.
It is no coincidence that the PM's statements come even as the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill and the Rules under the Nuclear Suppliers Liability Act are due to be introduced in Parliament. Both are seen as critical by the real foreign hand: giant American agrotech companies and the French, US and Russian nuclear industries.
Through his recent statements, the PM is trying to discredit and undermine the people and groups asking legitimate questions of a government that they have elected.
The last few years have seen mass mobilisation by farmers and consumers who do not want their seed sovereignty and food safety jeopardised, all to benefit American corporations such as Monsanto.
They opposed the introduction of genetically modified Bt brinjal. Public sentiment and scientific questions led to the former Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh, imposing a moratorium on GM food.
Similarly, following the Fukushima disaster, concerns grew about the dangers of nuclear energy. From Fatehabad in Haryana and Jaitapur in Maharashtra to Haripur in West Bengal and Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, lakhs of farmers and fishermen are rising up to protest their lands, homes and livelihoods being taken over for the risky, expensive and uneconomic proposition that is nuclear energy. Middle-class urban India has also grown sceptical that nukes are a solution to our energy shortages. By dismissing these protests as being engineered by a foreign hand, the PM has shown he is out of touch with the grassroots.
In July 2011, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, bluntly demanded that India amend its liability law — demanding that the will of Indians, through their elected representatives, be disregarded. The US State Department spokesperson, P. J. Crowley, and Ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, have made similar statements.
The Manmohan Singh Government has spared no effort to reassure the governments of France, the US and Russia, that neither protests nor the Civilian Nuclear Liability Bill will be allowed to delay the entry of foreign nuclear companies into India. If nuclear energy is truly safe, why are the suppliers worried about being liable in the case of an accident? The nukes liability law has now been passed, and any amendment is politically unfeasible. So the government is seeking to circumvent the law by framing Rules which will protect foreign suppliers by severely limiting their liability — even as the PM diverts attention by accusing civil society of being controlled by foreign interests!
Similarly, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill seeks to bypass the opposition to GM foods. The Bill will institute a centralised, single window clearance to GM crops, taking away the powers of the States. It will not be in keeping with India's biosafety obligations and overlooks the principle of absolute liability.
Rather than engaging with the legitimate questions of millions of Indians, the Government is browbeating those who do not toe their line. If there is wrongdoing by NGOs, why has the government not made its evidence public? Crude attempts to muzzle the right to protest have no place in India. These statements must be seen in the light of a wider governmental crackdown on non-profit organisations.
The FCRA 2010 now enables the Home Ministry to suspend the FCRA registration of any non-profit organisation for up to 180 days without a hearing, and for 0a number of reasons, including ‘public interest'. Similarly, under the proposed Direct Taxes Code, NGOs will be denied the existing benefit of being able to transfer up to 15 per cent of their annual income into a corpus against future contingencies. The Finance Ministry has ignored pleas from India's leading charities that this provision be reconsidered.
It is ironic that a Prime Minister who has been instrumental in opening up the economy to foreign corporations now accuses civil society of being controlled by a foreign hand.
(The author is Executive Director, Greenpeace India, a registered NGO)