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The Visible Foreign Hand

By Madhuresh Kumar

27 February, 2012

In 2006, V K Saxena, the president of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court alleging the routing of foreign funds by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and its associated organisations. He alleged that these organisations utilised the foreign funds for anti-national, seditious activities which were directed against smooth implementation of the projects of national importance. The project in question was the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada river, which would displace 2,00,000 people and from which the World Bank had to withdraw in 1993 after it admitted major irregularities, problems with the design of the project and massive environmental and human damage it would cause.

The Supreme Court issued notices to Medha Patkar, the NBA and others on 7 July 2006. The bench of Justice C K Thakker and Justice Altamas Kabir deemed it a case of ‘personnel grudge harboured by NCCL President V K Saxena against Ms. Patkar’ and dismissed the public-interest litigation, terming it as 'Private-Interest Litigation' to discredit and diffuse the agitation undertaken by the respondent No. 5 (the NBA). The court also imposed a cost of Rs 5,000 on the complainant. During the course of the case, it also became clear that the home ministry under L K Advani in 2000 and 2002 had conducted investigation for the violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and written to Narendra Modi that after investigations under the provisions of the act, no specific instances of any violation of the FCRA, 1976, was detected. So, there was no case but an attempt to malign, harass and deligitimise the genuine people's movements.

Is this what is happening again?

The allegations of foreign hand behind non-violent movements have been a known strategy to demotivate them to discredit, as noted in the above mentioned judgement. This time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has alleged that the American and Scandinavian NGOs are behind these agitations. Earlier Shri Prithviraj Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra, had said that foreign hand was behind the protests against the Jaitapur nuclear power plant. Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of Assam, has alleged that the protests against the Lower Subansiri Dam is done at the behest and support of China. Is there any truth in it?

Allegations like these need to be seriously engaged with. Many questions arise out of it. It completely belies the fact that people on their own are incapable of protesting against projects which threaten their lives and livelihood. Across the country today there are major agitations going against thermal power plants, steel plants, mining, dams, highways and major infrastructure projects. We have witnessed death of farmers in police firing: 16 in Kalinganagar, 14 in Nandigram, three in Sompeta, four in Bhatta-Parsaul and many others. Are these people protesting and dying because some American or other foreign-funded NGOs paid them to do this? It is a complete mockery of the genuine grievances of the people who are aggrieved by the unplanned infrastructure projects being carried out in the country today. These are political issues and need political engagement.

The allegations of foreign money being given to protesters seems nothing more than a discrediting ploy against genuine protests, since the government and so many of its flagship programmes are running on borrowed 'foreign' money from the World Bank and other sources. Every government is clamouring for huge foreign investment. An RTI query in early 2011 revealed that as of March 2010, India has a total outstanding of Rs 1,43,426 crore at the World Bank and Rs 25,803 crore at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In the past 10 years, India paid over 1,000 crore rupees to the World Bank and ADB alone as commitment charges. (Commitment fee is charged by the lenders from their borrowers for unused credit.) The funds from World Bank for structural adjustments received in the year 2009-10 amount to Rs 1,248 crore, almost double of the figure in the previous financial year. Also, there are huge funds going to water resource management, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, etc. The country currently has 104 active project loans from the World Bank, amounting to $21 billion.

It is ironic that none of this money is even accounted for or reflected in the Union budget or reported on the floor of Parliament. What does the government have to say about this? During the financial year 2009-10, India paid Rs 1,400 crore as interest to the World Bank. In the same period, the interest paid to the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) was Rs 1,182 crore. Who is deciding these agreements and loans from 'foreign' sources and without any accountability to Parliament? The nation needs an answer?

The much talked about foreign funds are well regulated by government's own agencies, and the home ministry has a special section to deal with this flow. NGOs submit annually their audited accounts and meet all other statutory requirements. Then, why raise these non-substantiated charges, when a much larger sum of foreign money remains outside the purview of the Union budget?

It is a well-known fact that in 1991, the World Bank influenced India to liberalise its economy, and our current prime minister was the chief architect of the new policy. We all know the 'foreign' connections our political class has and the influence these institutions have had on the economy and polity of this country. The nuclear deal was signed under the pressure of the US government inspite of vociferous protests from Left parties in Parliament. The deal is pushing for big business expansion in the name of nuclear power and energy in Jaitapur, Chutkha, Fatehabad and other places. After Fukushima, the fears of nuclear explosion have become real, and the government will do well by addressing these genuine concerns rather than levelling these unsubstantiated allegations.

Madhuresh Kumar is national organsier, National Alliance of People's Movements.



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