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Adani critics suppressed by Indian government

The Hindenburg Report revealed Adani’s ties to the Government, including Gautam Adani’s closeness to Modi. The government has responded with a wave of suppressions on individuals and NGOS resisting the Adani Group to mitigate further controversies ahead of the 2024 national elections. 

Central investigative agencies in India such as Income Tax authorities (IT), Intelligence Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) have been cracking down on civil society under false pretenses of violating the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), since Prime Minister Narendra Modi formed his government in 2014. FCRA regulates foreign contributions that NGOs receive and the Act has been amended to selectively target NGO’s opposing coal and critical of the Central government’s policies, constricting their access to funds and limiting their operationality and influence in every way.

In the last 9 years, the suppression has been directed at NGOs/individuals working in the area of human rights, protection of Adivasis and minorities, environmental protection and climate change, including those involved in opposing Adani Group’s projects. However, recent crackdowns carried out on NGOs and individuals have been openly connected to Adani for the first time. The Hindenburg Report has revealed Adani’s ties to the Government given Gautam Adani’s closeness to Modi. The government has responded with a wave of suppressions to mitigate further controversies ahead of the 2024 national elections. 

The false accusation of FCRA violations has been used by the Income Tax department as an excuse to raid NGOs, where every document is copied and computers and phones are cloned. The IT department then makes the case to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for more investigations by ED or CBI, who then proceed to raid the NGO once more and file a chargesheet against the NGO and individuals related to it. Consequently, the NGOs lose their FCRA licenses.

Most NGOs rely heavily on foreign funds to conduct their welfare and charity-related activities among the less-privileged, marginalised, or otherwise vulnerable populations of the country. Thus, an FCRA registration is of paramount consequence for them to continue to do so.  The government has been effectively wielding FCRA as a weapon, to quell criticism and dissent against its policies and projects.

The Income Tax department has investigated the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), Centre for Policy Research, Oxfam India, Environics Trust as well as others. Based on their findings, they advised the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to file a complaint in March 2023 blatantly accusing organisations of supporting resistance to Adani projects and acting against the interests of the country.

LIFE and its founder Ritwick Dutta

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a preliminary case against one of India’s leading environmental lawyers, Ritwick Dutta, alleging he received foreign funding in 2013-14 and later from the US-based environmental law group, Earthjustice. Dutta is Head of the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), a public interest environmental law group. The CBI alleges the financing violated the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 and claims that “LIFE and EJ are in the process of stalling coal projects in India”.

Ritwick Dutta received the Right to Livelihood Award in 2021 (Alternative Noble). He represented Niyamgiri Tribes (Orissa) against Vedanta and was successful in getting a landmark verdict, affirming the tribe’s rights to the forests and its lands, and its right to deny any projects that may cause harm. The case and his intervention led to the Forests Rights Act, which stipulated that no projects could go forward without the express consent of the tribes (Advisasis) residing in the forests and its adjoining areas.

Ritwick Dutta has said that “Less than 5% of the cases we handle involve coal,” while the FIR states that “most of the litigation matters which Shri. Ritwick Dutta handles are (sic) the litigation related to coal excavation/mines and coal plants”. The FIR further equates criticising government’s policies and email discussions about legal strategies against Adani’s coal operations as akin to committing a crime. LIFE’s FCRA has been cancelled.

  • The First Information Report (FIR) by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) specifically mentions the Adani Group in Australia.
    “They mentioned the example of activities of Adani in Australia. It appears from this that they were planning to target Indian entities undertaking projects outside India. Such litigations lead to delay in projects impacting public interest by denying energy security to citizens of the nation. Further, it is also impacting economic interests of nation outside geographical boundaries of India.”
  • Both Dutta and LIFE have been accused of agitating local farmers against government policy in Gujarat by representing Kheti Vikas Seva Trust against Adani Enterprises Ltd. This case was focused on the greenfield copper refinery plant at Mundra in Gujarat’s Kutch district
  • The FIR accuses Dutta of taking foreign funds to stall coal projects and affecting energy security, being involved in “criticizing Government Policy” and making allegations against the Government of India “through public media”.
  • The full CBI chargesheet can be found here.

NGOs supporting Adivasis in their decade long protests against Adani Enterprises in Hasdeo Arand, Chattisgarh 

The Hasdeo Arand forest is one India’s last remaining pristine and contiguous tracts of forest, measuring more than 1,500 sq km. and is famous for rare plants such as epiphytic orchids and smilax, endangered animals such as sloth bears, elephants and tigers. Known for teak and sal trees, it also serves as a water catchment area for Central India. 

A decade-long struggle by Adivasis and farmers living in the region is refusing to die down, even after government suppression and attempts to amend the Forests Rights Act to favour the mining companies. Lawyers, NGOs and activists working to support and represent India’s indigenous population in Hasdeo Arand have been targeted by the government following Adani’s corruption and reported ties to Modi. 

  • Centre for Policy Research (CPR), India’s premier think-tank has been accused of funding NGOs and individuals “engaged in resisting the mining operations in Chhattisgarh”. The IT notice begins with an accusation about the “involvement of CPR in Hasdeo Arand protests through Jana Abhivyakti Samajik Vikas Sanstha (JASVS)”. JASVS has also been raided by the IT department as its trustee Alok Shukla is involved in “Hasdeo Bachao Andolan” (Save Hasdeo Struggle).
    • The notice against CPR uses the word ‘Hasdeo’ on at least 20 occasions but doesn’t once mention who the prime beneficiary of mining in the region is. The decade-long protests are against Adani Enterprises which has won the tender for all of the mines in the area as the mine developer and operator over the years.
    • CPR has also been questioning India’s coal policy citing excess of coal mining and coal publicly. See here. CPR’s FCRA has been suspended for 180 days since 28 February, 2023.
  • Oxfam India has been accused of giving money to Environics Trust to mobilise communities against coal projects. Environics Trust has been supporting “Save Hasdeo” protests.

Past suppression

In June 2014, an internal Intelligence Bureau report was leaked to the media accusing 22 foreign-funded environmental and human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International India and Greenpeace India, of cutting the country’s national income by 2-3 per cent. A separate report on Greenpeace India’s work challenging coal mines and power plants was used as justification for the 2015 decision by the Ministry of Home Affairs stripping the organisation, and 9000 other groups, of their license to receive foreign funds

In August 2018, a more sinister form of repression took place when 16 activists and lawyers working with Adivasis, Dalits (lowest in the caste system) and minorities on environmental and human rights issues were arrested under “Bhima Koregaon” case and charged under 10 sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, whose legal processes make proof of innocence or guilt essentially irrelevant. They were accused of conspiring to murder Prime Minister Mr. Modi, and for inciting violence in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra (state), India. One of the accused was Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer representing Tribes (Adivasis) in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand (states), specifically and specially against Adani’s mining projects in Hadeo Arand forests. She was granted bail after 3 years in prison.

The central government has cancelled FCRA licenses of over 6,500 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the last five years. In April 2022, the Supreme Court upheld amendments made by the government in November 2020 to the FCRA. However, many International Human Rights bodies have cited FCRA as among the three laws that affect “civil liberties and fundamental rights”.