History of Greenpeace India

Page - October 5, 2010
Greenpeace started in 1971 with a small group of volunteers organising a music concert to raise funds to sail a boat from Vancouver to Amchitka to protest against US militarism and the testing of nuclear weapons. The tests went ahead but the protests gave birth to a new idea – Greenpeace.

44 years on, Greenpeace has a presence in over 55 countries around the world. We share the same core values of non-violence, bearing witness, personal action, internationalism and independence – we do not accept funding from governments or corporations.

You can read more about Greenpeace activities around the world via their national or on the international website which links to national pages.

Before Greenpeace India (1995-2000)

Nuclear disarmament now Taj Mahal protestGreenpeace India was founded in 2001. But our story goes back further to 1995 where grassroots activists (Nimi, still sits opposite us) with friends from other Greenpeace offices started the idea of Greenpeace India in Delhi. Ideas are often more powerful than organisations.

The first campaigns to stop western companies using India as a dumping ground for toxic waste (1995), the iconic and then legal (ish), hot air balloon protest near the Taj Mahal (1998), the campaigns against toxic ship breaking in Gujarat  and all, gave us the momentum to sort our papers and to form the Greenpeace India Environmental Trust (GET) in May 2001 - still to this day solely funded by Indian donors.

The early years (2001-2008)

Dow clean up Bhopal protestLooking back at old websites and press releases  evokes nostalgia from those early days. The success stories  of a very small office campaigning on every issue from Genetic Engineering to mercury dumping at Kodaikanal (part of the corporate accountability ship tour  in 2003). Not to mention promoting clean energy and the solar generation, and the ongoing struggles for justice for the victims of Bhopal. We got involved in every issue we could find.

To help expand our campaigning efforts in 2002, we formally registered the Greenpeace India society (GPIS) in Chennai – and the society successfully applied for and was granted FCRA status. Both the trust and the society are registered charitable organisations and ever since we’ve dutifully published and filed our annual accounts, and returns with the relevant tax authorities and as appropriate with the Registrar of Societies (ref the society) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (ref FCRA).

In an early morning wake-up call to the Orissa Chief Minister, Greenpeace activists create a graveyard of Olive Ridley carcasses in New Delhi. By 2006 with the successful campaign to send the toxic warship Clemenceau  back to France (they can deal with their own poisons) and the high profile campaign to save the turtles of Orissa (check out the Olive Ridley turtle protests), we had developed our campaigning skills to become an effective voice for a sustainable India.

Our supporter base was growing fast as more and more people in India were inspired to donate to a green and peaceful future for our country. With offices in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Cochin, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune our fundraising operations had become frontliners raising awareness about environmental issues across India.

Campaigning and mobilisation (2009-2014)

Students of KR Mangalam School in New Delhi form a human art in the shape of 'Ban the bulb' on their school playground. They took a break from their regular schedule to join the Greenpeace 'Ban the bulb' petition drive. The Ban the Bulb campaign integrated our offline work with volunteers with our online work with cyberactivists (we don’t use this word anymore), and our mobile campaigning work with missed calls and SMS actions. Over 2 ½ lakh people signed up to support the campaign and 3 years later celebrated success with the announcement of the Bachat Lamp Yojana program in 2009.

Greenpeace, along with the citizens of India residing in Delhi, is trying to make a world record by cooking the World’s Biggest Baingan Bharta.The exposure of nuclear radiation at Mayapuri, and the campaigning around the nuclear liability bill [pdf] helped enforce one of our key demands in the Monsoon parliament of 2010 – that of complete supplier liability i.e. if you build it and it goes wrong, then it’s your responsibility. The Safe Food campaign continued to win a world record for the biggest GM Free Baigan Bharta   and with the recruitment of 33,818 new donors in 2011 alone, supported by 13 offices across the country, our Indian income hit 11 crore Rs/year [Annual Report 2011 - pdf]. Our income is now around 17 crore Rs/year [2015] – this money comes from individual Indian citizens who choose to support our work.

Dharnai Live - solar village in BiharOnwards - the Delhi solar rooftop campaign, and the Switch on the Sun initiative culminated in the Bike-A-Thon for world environment day in 2013, bringing Greenpeace supporters, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), cyclists and radio stations on board (or on their bikes) to join the long running campaign to solarise our cities and our villages (see Dharnai Live). That idea of a solar generation from 2004 still lives on.

Meanwhile the sustainable agriculture campaign hit headlines as Greenpeace India published an expose of the pesticides in our tea – persuading companies like Unilever, Girnar, Tata, Wagh Bakri and more to commit to non-pesticides management – making our food and chai safer for all of us.

Greenpeace and MTV team up to save India's forestsThe Mahan campaign started in the forests, working with tribal communities, and led to the creation of an online nation – the republic of Junglistan. The campaign had everything from legal cases to reports, celebrity endorsements (Fools for Forests), a MTV show, to offline, online and mobile activism (inc. Radio Sangharsh), in the cities and the forests culminating in a huge non-violent direct action in Jan 2014 and ultimate victory in a landmark legal victory we never believed possible. Over 1 million people (10 Lakh) joined the campaign – and if you were one of them, then that victory was your doing - thank you.

By January 2015, Greenpeace India as a legally registered society had come a long way since 2001/2002, with offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Patna, Kolkata, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. We have an Indian board of governors made up of notable Indian citizens and an Indian Senior Management Team (SMT) who led an organisation of 350 (approx.) Indian staff - we're still not sure where the accusations of the foreign hand come from?

We still rely on the donations of 75,000+ Indian citizens to fund our campaign work, which represents 70% of our total income (or as of Sep 2015 100% of our income – see below). In addition we are supported by a national network of Indian volunteers and 11 lakh online and 18 lakh mobile activists.

Recent history (2014-2015 )

You can't muzzle dissent in a democracyIn June 2014 the media reported that the Indian Intelligence agency had allegedly leaked a report making bizarre claims about Greenpeace India and other civil society organisations. This report has never been officially published. In the aftermath of that report the Ministry of Home Affairs has led a crackdown of NGOs, charitable societies and civil society groups in India.

Shortly afterwards the MHA blocked donations  from international donors, suspended our FCRA registrations  and stopped Greenpeace staff with valid visas from entering India . Then in January 2015 the MHA ordered the offloading of an Indian citizen  – Priya Pillai, the lead campaigner for the Mahan struggle from her flight.

What's the cost of standing up for rights in India - Priya PillaiThe High Court of Delhi ordered the MHA to unfreeze the donations, declaring the MHA’s actions as arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional. In a separate case the High Court then ordered the MHA to expunge the lookout circulator issued against Priya Pillai ruling that disagreeing with the government does not make you anti-national  – and that you cannot muzzle dissent in a democracy.

In April 2015 the MHA froze our domestic accounts  stopping the donations of 77,768 Indian citizens to Greenpeace India. Threatened with imminent closure Greenpeace India launched its Freedom of Speech campaign. In response, support pours in from across India, from new donations from Indian citizens, from new volunteers and from every quarter of Indian society.

In May 2015 the Delhi high court granted a lifeline to Greenpeace India ordering the MHA to unfreeze two domestic accounts as interim relief until the case can be properly considered in September. With these funds Greenpeace India launches new campaigns to help make our cities brighter and greener with solar street lights and to tackle dangerous air pollution - and in June over 148 groups of you organised events across India to celebrate our nations biodiversity, to celebrate free speech and to say to the MHA #ISupportGreenpeaceIndia.

A week later, government agencies threaten Greenpeace India will cancellation of our society registration , unreasonable tax demands and more. In August, the Madras High Court ordered the Registrar of Societies to allow Greenpeace India to inspect their books.

In September, the day before the court case to review the freezing of Greenpeace India’s domestic accounts and FCRA registration, the MHA arbitrarily cancelled Greenpeace India’s FCRA registration . In response Greenpeace India launched the next phase of our Air Pollution campaign  and the Bollywood film competition. Whatever happens we plan to keep on campaigning for clean air, clean water, and clean, cheap energy for all Indians.

What's next?

This is just a small snapshot of some of our history – it doesn’t mention the Airtel diesel campaign, the Oily Moily spoof, the solar innovation challenge, Living Soils in Bihar, lots more work on GM and Nuclear power especially at Jaitapur, the Arctic 30 solidarity events, the hugely succesful E-waste campaigns, the ocean defenders work against overfishing, the water for farmers work, dams protests, Coal Curse - the documentary, campaigns to save the Ganga, the Delhi Toxicity campaign and much more. So please browse our website for more stories of 20 years of campaigning for people and the environment in India.

The next episode in our history is up to you – so if you'd like to campaign for clean air, water, to protect India's forests and our countries future, then get involved .

20 years of action

And a final thank you to everyone who was involved in any of these activities from over 20 years of our history - enjoy!