26 June 2014

Peaceful Forest Protest in India © Vinit Gupta / Greenpeace


I assume if you are reading this, you are already well-informed about the Intelligence Bureau Report submitted to the Prime Minister of India. On the morning of June 11, as we were trying to go about our work, we got derailed from our schedule when an Indian Express article titled, 'Greenpeace, a threat to economy security of India' showed up on our news feeds. Yes, I work for Greenpeace.

Before even getting to the report and before forming any opinions, I just want to introduce myself. Here's my story: I am a 27-year-old Punjabi boy, born and brought up in Delhi. My parents sent me to Canada for my Bachelor's in Computer Science and had big dreams for me where I would earn loads of money, keep the family happy and live a prosperous life (just like any other Indian parent would). Life didn't turn out to be that lovely and simple. At the age of 23, with 14 months of job experience on my resume and a partially clear conscience of having attempted to clean Delhi, I took an approximately 50% pay cut and a job at Greenpeace, which also meant that I relocate to a new city (with the 50% pay cut).

I can brag about what I do or what I have done ever since but the point is, this is not just my story. This is the story of everyone who works in civil society groups that are actually trying to bring about a change in the country. This is the story where there are no incentives of higher salary, posh accommodation, or luxurious cars that lured us into doing the work we do.

This is the story where a kid's dream of a better world, a teenager's hope to see change, a young professional's urge to fix everything that's wrong, and a grown-up's passion for what they believe in, meets the opportunity. This is the story where these dreams, hopes, urges and passions weren't buried under pressure to earn money, buy stuff and live the way society tells you to live. This is the story of the new-age "hippies".

Back to reality: "Greenpeace, a threat to economic security of India: IB report"

Really? Here are the main points the report focuses on:

Foreign funding: The WORD PLAY. Let's gather how Greenpeace is funded and who this foreign funder is. Greenpeace is one of the few organisations in the world that works on a model of independence. To ensure that the organisation can stand against any environmental crime by any corporate or government, Greenpeace raises money from individuals. YOU are an individual. INDIANS are those individuals. More than 60% of funds are being raised from Indians living in India. Greenpeace does receive a grant from Greenpeace International. Guess where they get their funding from? INDIVIDUALS.

So, are all these people from around the world - lakhs of them - the real economic threat to India's economy? Not the wealthy corporates that just paid for all that marketing for each and every politician during the elections; ever wonder what do they get out of it? How does this investment get them any profit? Not the government that is now paving way for more so-called development projects; ever wondered who is investing in these projects? What happens to all the locals (70% of our population) whose land they snatch? Ever wondered who actually benefits from that American company (who can't set up more nuclear plants in their own country) setting up plants in India?

Targeting the IT sector: The INCOMPLETE INFORMATION. Let's try to manipulate the biggest community in the country that has access to communication tools, is proud of the country and can fight back for what they believe. How do we get these people against NGOs? The developing IT sector of India – the weakness. Let's say "Greenpeace plans to target the 'Indian' IT firms and hinder development in the country." Everyone's now pissed off and voicing their opinion.

Actual information: Greenpeace ran a campaign on the whole IT sector (yes, including brands like DELL) in 2008-09 to set up an e-waste policy. Proper handling of the increasing amount of electronic waste so it does not lead to an even bigger garbage problem in the country and this time with more chemicals running through our sewages and landfills – is this against economic security?

Oh wait, there's more. Greenpeace actually worked with the IT sector, and especially with Wipro, to achieve an actual e-waste law that now ensures a safer disposal. So, the economic threat of the country tried to help the country, joined hands with the economy boosters of the country and delivered a law to ensure lesser harmful chemical garbage around YOU. Damn these hippies who couldn't even be a proper economic threat. Can't trust these guys!

Anti-development: The EMOTIONAL MISGUIDANCE. Development, development, development. What does India want? Development.

What do people want? Development

India is on its path to? Development

What got Modi elected? Development

India needs to develop and it needs to keep up with the fast moving world but what is this development we are talking about. Think – what is development if the people are not allowed to devlop as well. Let's look at the process flow of how most companies have been setting up power plants.

The Bollywood version (romanticised): A company working for the future of India finds a source of power and wants to set up a power plant to create more electricity. It submits its report and an application to the government. The government approves the request since there is only a positive outcome. The Environment Ministry checks for the environmental impact of the project and makes some suggestions that the company agrees to. Next, the locals are consulted and with plans to provide them a better home and a job, they agree to the project. Fast forward, the plant is running and there is more electricity = They all live happily ever after.

The real life version: Companies look for various options to mine and set up a plant, identifies the one that earns the most profit for the least investment. It lobbies with the government to get the project approved (coalgate) and then the application has to be cleared by the Environment Ministry. The project is stalled for the longest time because the forest research shows a negative impact on the country's ecology.

The Prime Minister pushes and forces an environmental clearance. On the ground, the locals are consulted. Some are bribed by promises of a better future and other's opinions are forged, and a "clearance from the people" is given. Protests are met by threats to lives and police oppression. People are forced out of their homes into a re-settlement, which is right next to where the company will dump all the dug-out earth right next to the mine. With no farms anymore, the only work left to do is work in the mine. Old, young, children – everyone works in the mine while an amazing PR campaign sells the newly planted 20,000 trees, which are supposed to replace 3 lakh trees and thousands of species that live in this forest and a school that is supposed to promote education but will never see a teacher. The worst is still not done. Soon, mining will be done, some will have jobs in the plant and the others would be suffering from breathing problems while some would have run away to the nearest town to work as a labourer.

At the end, these guys who sacrificed their land to the power project hardly see electricity, have lost their homes and the water is polluted with fly ash. So, how did these people develop? How did the nation develop?

Greenpeace's pro-people, sustainable development ideology: This group called Greenpeace, of hundreds of Indians backed by lakhs of more Indians have come up with this 'anti-development' model that suggests that INDIANS of any caste, class or religion can have access to electricity without the current scenario of suffering by 2050 only if the investment in the dirty power projects is moved slowly and strategically.

Bihar: Greenpeace working along with the government in Bihar has set up a micro-grid in Bihar as a model for the country to adopt. A model that provides solar powered electricity to villages and completely changes their life. Electricity for all - energy equity – still anti-development?

Civil society is not against development. The civil society is trying to ensure that this country of vast population and huge class divides ensures that the future is safe and secure for everyone. Ensure that the divide does not get bigger; instead the country develops together, with its people and its environment. Sustainable development is possible and that's the second option in front of us. It does not get corporates immediate huge profits, it does not get governments immediate recognition for their work, it does not get politicians corrupt money to clear such projects and it does not get political parties more funding for their next election. It only gets people a better, greener future and lets them keep the ecological pride of their country with it. It's a WIN-WIN only for you and that's why I say, the CHOICE is only yours!

It took me some time to put these thoughts down and I could have typed out more but it can go on forever. The fact is, if you are with civil societies, you know these moments bring us together but if you are someone who thinks NGOs are a threat to economic security, I hope this made you think and re-consider it. If it didn't, no matter what this IB report leads to, I still have faith in you and I think there'll be a better day when you will RISE and that day we'd be brothers and sisters in arms!

Akshey Kalra is an environmental activist.