Why India’s government is targeting Greenpeace

Chimney in Delhi Image copyright AFP
Image caption Coal is the main source of power in India

Narendra Modi is probably celebrating the first anniversary of his landslide victory with a Chinese meal.

It is the last day of the Indian prime minister's tour of China and he is meeting some of the heads of Chinese industry. He will be hoping that they will be able to drive forward his signature policy, 'Make in India'.

But one year into his term as prime minister and many say Mr Modi is showing some distinctly undemocratic tendencies as he tries to foster a manufacturing boom in India.

At the end of April, India cancelled the registration of nearly 9,000 foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), saying they didn't comply with the country's tax codes.

And the Indian government has singled out the environmental pressure group, Greenpeace, for special attention.

The reason why says a lot, both about Mr Modi's ambitions for India and his attitude to dissent.

This week Greenpeace won a small victory.

On Wednesday the government lifted its ban on activist Priya Pillai travelling abroad.

In January she was stopped from travelling to the UK to testify to British MPs about the effects of coal mining in India.

Financial freeze

But the war is far from over.

The charity says it will have to close down in a matter of weeks unless the Indian government lifts the financial freeze it has imposed on the NGO.

A secret report from India's Intelligence Bureau, leaked last year, explains why India's government has such a beef with the environmental charity.

It said campaigns headed by Greenpeace and other NGOs had drained three percentage points off the nation's annual growth rate.

Greenpeace wouldn't claim to have been anywhere near that influential but its campaign against the coal industry does strike at the heart of the 'Make in India' policy.

Coal is the main source of power in India and is central to the BJP government's plans to boost industrial production.

It is also the most polluting of all fossil fuels and a key driver of climate change.

And, when it comes to coal, India compares poorly even with China, as Mr Modi's visit highlights.

China's use of coal has been falling steeply, helping stall world growth in CO2 emissions.

Meanwhile India's CO2 emissions are forecast to rise rapidly.

According to the International Energy Agency, India is set to double its coal consumption by 2035 and become the world's largest coal importer by around 2020.

Almost half of the 1,200 new coal-fired power stations proposed around the world are in India according to the World Resources Institute.

That's why campaigning against the coal industry in India has been a priority for Greenpeace.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Greenpeace says the government restrictions are an "attempt to silence criticism"

The charity's campaigns have stopped coal mining in some of India's forest areas.

The NGO will also have earned the government's ire by its relentless attack on two of India's corporate behemoths, Coal India and the Adani Group.

Coal India is the biggest coal company in the world and India's fifth largest company.

The Adani Group is the third biggest coal company in world and its head, Gautam Adani, is known to be close to the Indian prime minister.

But the Indian government's attempt to muzzle Greenpeace and other NGOs has generated a chorus of criticism.

India likes to celebrate its status as the world's largest democracy but the American ambassador to India has said its harassment of NGOs had a "chilling effect" on the nation's democracy.

When the Indian electorate voted Mr Modi into power with a handsome majority a year ago they were voting for his promise to transform the Indian economy.

Mr Modi is clearly determined to deliver on that promise. Indeed some Indians now fear that he may compromise some of the country's other core values along the way.

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