New Delhi: The Delhi High Court today directed the government to "unblock" foreign contributions to the tune of Rs 1.87 crore received by controversial NGO 'Greenpeace' from its Amsterdam headquarters, saying the government showed "no material to restrict access" to the foreign fund.
"According to me, there is no material on record to restrict the petitioner (Greenpeace India Society) from accessing the bank account with IDBI bank in Chennai," Justice Rajiv Shakdher said, while observing that the "amount in fixed deposited in the bank be unblocked and transferred to the NGO's account."
The court further said the inspection in the matter has already been carried out by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and they have produced no material on record against the NGO in New Delhi and Greenpeace International.
"So, at least at this juncture, it is not good enough to hold back Greenpeace India from using their account," it said.
It observed that MHA in its reply had stated that Greenpeace India Society (GPIS) can have access to all other foreign funds except those from Greenpeace International, as it has been put on a watch-list.
The court also observed that all NGOs were entitled to have their viewpoints and merely because their views are not in consonance with that of the government's, it does not mean they were acting against national interest.
The court order came during hearing of a petition filed by GPIS alleging that the government has taken action "without any rhyme or reason and without complying with the provisions of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)".
The MHA had directed the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to take prior permission of the ministry's FCRA department before clearing any foreign aid to 'Greenpeace' from Greenpeace International and Climate Works. This directive, issued on June 13 last year, put on hold direct funding of the NGO from abroad since each transaction has to be cleared on a case-to-case basis by the RBI.
Meanwhile, the court said the government was free to take action against GPIS in future if it found violation of FCRA norms.
The High Court also pulled up the government for not issuing notice to the environment NGO before freezing its account, saying at least it should say "what Greenpeace did was wrong or arbitrary in nature".
"How do you (MHA) respond to the NGO's allegation? At least, you should say something. First you freeze the account then you investigate the case, which is very, very uncommon," the court said.
The judge said if the petitioner is violating some law, prosecute them but it should be done under an appropriate law.
The court has disposed of the petition saying government stand was not clear at this stage and no relevant material has also been shown which allowed it to act against Greenpeace.
During the proceedings, the government's Standing Counsel Jasmeet Singh vehemently opposed the NGO's contentions and said the Home Ministry had a problem with the donor, Greenpeace International, which was on its watch-list.
Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for Greenpeace, said the petition has been filed against the "uncommunicated and illegal prohibition imposed by the MHA in not allowing credit of the foreign funds in the petitioner's FCRA Bank Account... in IDBI Bank Ltd, Chennai".
The counsel said the NGO gave a representation on July 17 last year asking for relevant documents on the basis of which such "illegal" prohibitory action was taken, but no document has been given so far.
"The Centre has not given any reply to the said representation," the counsel contended, adding that "through a clandestine method, which is unknown to the rule of law, the government cannot adversely affect the rights of Greenpeace and in abuse of the powers, cripple the activities of Greenpeace, which it has been doing in protecting the environment/ecology, which is in larger public interest and courts have accepted the environmental principles at par with what has been laid down internationally".
The NGO had said in its plea that "IDBI Bank Limited is simply following the directions given by the MHA through RBI and has therefore, not credited the transferred foreign funds in their accounts.
"The action of the Respondents is in violation of Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution besides also violating the principles of natural justice."
It had said around 60 per cent of the funds of GPIS are generated from domestic donations and individual Indian citizens, while the remainder comes from foreign contributions, mainly from Greenpeace International (GPI) based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Greenpeace International and Climate Works Foundation are the two principal international contributors to Greenpeace India Society.