Greenpeace India will be forced to close within a month with the loss of 340 jobs because of a government crackdown on its funding, the organisation’s chief has warned.
The Indian home ministry froze seven bank accounts connected with the organisation last month, the latest in a series of moves against the NGO since Narendra Modi’s government came to power.
The international group said that if it was forced to close the Indian operation, it would be the first time since it was founded in 1971 that one of its national organisations was forcibly closed down.
There were similar fears raised by Greenpeace for the group’s Russian operation during the ‘Arctic 30’ incident in 2013, but the branch ultimately remained open.
Samit Aich, Greenpeace India’s executive director, said that telling staff of the imminent closure due to a lack of funds for salaries and office space was “the hardest speech of his life”.
“The question here is why are 340 people facing the loss of their jobs? Is it because we talked about pesticide-free tea, air pollution, and a cleaner, fairer future for all Indians?”
The US state department has expressed concern at the measure by India’s government, which a leaked intelligence report has shown is concerned at activism and protests delaying major infrastructure projects.
India has also put the US-headquartered Ford Foundation on a security watch list, requiring government approval for its activities.
US ambassador Richard Verma was reported by Reuters as saying: “I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India.”
The head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, said it was “shocking” that its India operation faced closure. The group is running a petition calling on the home ministry to unblock its bank accounts.
“I fear for my own future, but what worries me much more is the chilling message that will go out to the rest of Indian civil society and the voiceless people they represent,” said Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace India campaigner who was stopped by officials from flying to the UK in January to talk to MPs about the impact of coal mining – a ban that was later overturned.
“The MHA [ministry of home affairs] has gone too far by blocking our domestic bank accounts, which are funded by individual Indian citizens. If Greenpeace India is first, who is next?”
Ben Stewart, a Greenpeace campaigner in the UK and author of a new book on the Arctic 30, has told the Guardian: “What the Russian government did was pretty insidious if you look at the kind of pressure that the staff were under there … But the assault on the Indian office has as big, if not bigger implications for the organisation.”