Indian Prime Minister’s NGO Comments Spark Controversy

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March 6, 2012; Source: Deccan Herald

The Indian government has reportedly put a number of NGOs, including American and European Union nonprofit organizations, on a “watch list” in the wake of local protests against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. The list has allegedly been circulated to Indian missions across the globe in order to scrutinize visa applications from the non-governmental organizations. The Indian government’s reported belief is that seemingly homespun protest from anti-nuclear power groups are actually fueled by American and European-based entities, perhaps with quiet financial and political support from their own governments.

The Koodankulam power project was conceived in cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1988, but stalled as Russian statehood came to pass. The project has experienced several fits and starts since then, but the Indian government seems to have satisfied its safety concerns and is finally prepared to move ahead, with an eye toward slaking the thirst of an energy-starved region.

The number and home country of NGOs on the list is in dispute, and so far, no source that we are aware of has been able to confirm the identity of any specific NGO named on the list. While the Deccan Herald has reported 77 NGOs are on the list, including some from the U.S., it also quotes India’s Union Home Secretary R. K. Singh saying that the government is only looking “into the accounts of 12 to 13 Indian NGOs with regard to allegation of funds diversion.” Reports that the list includes foreign NGOs, however, would be consistent with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent interview statement that, “There are NGOs, often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces. But we are a democracy. We are not like China. You know, for example, what’s happening in Koodankulam. The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply.”

According to India Today, “anti-nuclear activists and representatives of several NGOs have categorically denied these allegations and claimed that the movement is being funded by the public.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Singh’s comments drew a response letter from several prominent Indian leaders, including a former Supreme Court judge, a former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board chief, and a former power secretary. As reported in the Hindustan Times, the letter read, in part, “You choose to resurrect the old bogeyman of a ‘foreign hand,’ this time pointing to external funding of NGOs to oppose Indian development,” but the authors argued that “what we are all fighting against is indeed a foreign-hand operating at the behest of and from within your government, supported by Indian and foreign commercial entities, to corporatise Indian agriculuture & farming practices and the energy sector, without in-depth and impartial analyses which prioritise the country’s security and safety.” –Louis Altman and Mike Keefe-Feldman

  • Sanjiv Bhatia