New Delhi: Greenpeace India on Tuesday said it was staring at an "imminent" shutdown within a month in the absence of funds for staff salaries and accused the government of "strangulating" it by stealth after the freezing of its funds.
In his address to the Greenpeace India staff, executive director Samit Aich asked them to prepare for the imminent shutdown of the organisation after 14 years in the country.
"Greenpeace India has one month left to fight for its survival with the threat of an imminent shutdown looming large. The NGO has been left with funds for staff salaries and office costs that will last for just about a month," a Greenpeace India statement said.
Calling it "strangulation by stealth", the global green body also challenged the home minister to stop using arbitrary penalties and admit that he is trying to shut Greenpeace India down because of its successful campaigns.
It said that the home ministry's decision to block its domestic bank accounts could lead to not only the loss of 340 employees but a "sudden death" for its campaigns which strived to represent the voice of the poor on issues of "sustainable development, environmental justice and clean, affordable energy".
"I just made one of the hardest speeches of my life but my staff deserve to know the truth. We have one month left to save Greenpeace India from complete shutdown and to fight MHA's indefensible decision to block our domestic accounts," said Aich.
It said that following allegations over foreign funding, Greenpeace India has been the subject of a string of penalties imposed by the MHA, all of which have been overturned by the Delhi high court. The latest is blocking access to domestic bank accounts funded by donations from over 77,000 Indian citizens.
The Government had earlier barred Greenpeace India from receiving foreign funds with immediate effect by suspending its licence for six months and froze all its accounts, alleging it has "prejudicially" affected the country's public and economic interests.
The environmental activist group has also been served a notice by the government which asked why its registration should not be cancelled permanently.
While Greenpeace India is currently preparing its formal response to this decision as well as a fresh legal challenge, Aich expressed concern that the legal process could extend well beyond June 1 - when cash reserves for salaries and office costs will run dry, the statement said.
"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," he said.
Priya Pillai, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace India whose overseas travel ban was overturned by the Delhi High Court in March, said that due to all this a chilling message will go out to the rest of Indian civil society.
"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.
"The MHA 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?" she asked.
Asking the home ministry to recognise the impact of its decision, Greenpeace India said that Rajnath Singh is trying to "strangle" us by stealth as he knows an outright ban is "unconstitutional".
"We ask him to confirm that he is trying to close Greenpeace India and suppress our voice. His arbitrary attack could set a very dangerous precedent. Every Indian civil society group is now on the chopping block," said Aich.