If @greenpeaceIndia is anti-development, then what is this?

I have largely kept my mouth shut on the Intelligence Bureau (IB) vs. Greenpeace India showdown last month. I guess I’m — surprising even to myself — a little gun-shy.

The leaked report has been posted online; read for yourself. IB has uncovered a large network of NGOs that are attempting to “take down” India’s development.

In the interest of fairness, here’s Greenpeace’s response. You might also want to read some strong reaction here. Or just Google it for all the debate.

As I read it, the IB report (supported by “facts”) says that being concerned about the environment (often in solidarity with other people internationally) and opposing mega projects that sacrifice said environment for questionable, often inequitable, short-term economic gains makes you anti-development and anti-national. I guess that means that substantial numbers of people in our country who stand for inclusive development that doesn’t wreak havoc on people and planet are anti-development and anti-national.

The report makes a stark claim that such opposition knocks two to three percent off of India’s GDP growth. I imagine their calculations must be secret; they don’t cite any numbers but I am sure they exist. This is the IB we’re talking about, and they wouldn’t make such claims if they didn’t know what they were talking about. I certainly don’t believe this guy.

Now, I don’t know what to make of the World Bank report I remember reading a while back that said environmental degradation cuts 5.7 percent off of India’s annual GDP growth. The World Bank is foreign, so I guess it’s probably just anti-national and trying to “take down” India’s development, too.

As I think I understand the IB, having foreign friends or accepting foreign funds, even legally, is questionable. Having foreign ties makes you more likely to be anti national and interested in a “take down” of India’s development. Our current environment minister was the president of a firm that had ties to ClimateWorks, a big foreign NGO, but thank goodness he left that firm as soon as he made the cabinet.

But I’m still a little confused. The IB report makes very clear that big FDI projects like the Vendanta (UK subsidiary) bauxite mine or the POSCO (South Korean subsidiary) steel plant have been held up by all this anti-development and anti-national activity. But I thought the F in FDI stood for foreign. Maybe they’re acceptable sources of foreign money because they support neoliberal, Big Capitalist growth? But then the World Bank supports a lot of that, and I think I’m supposed to be skeptical of that one now.

In the name of full disclosure, I’m an OCI Indian. That means I’m half and half (though I live in India, have Indian family and consider myself Indian). What am I do to? I don’t think there’s an operation for me to cut ties with myself.

The IB report report names a bunch of NGOs other than Greenpeace, including some that sound mostly like poor villagers trying to stop “development” from taking their land or destroying their fishing grounds. I guess they could be threats to national security as well.

I do think this “debate” hasn’t gotten enough coverage. I suspect that our own civil society is scared now that the curtain has been pulled back on their anti-development, anti-national activities that were “people centric,” as the IB put it.

For more full disclosure, I actually do disagree with Greenpeace on some policies/strategies, but I’ve also done consulting work for the organization and I have been donating monthly, because I thought they were protecting trees and fish and the like for poor people who rely heavily on trees and fish and the like. Maybe should I think about putting my money into other investments, like energy projects for the tens upon tens of millions of Indian villagers who don’t have power.

Which brings me to my headline question: If Greenpeace India (or any other NGO interested in protecting the environment) is ant-development or anti-national or both, what should I think about its effort to electrify villages with renewable, distributed technology? IB is telling me to be wary of Greenpeace, but should I be wary of the #bijliforall campaign, which seems to support “development” among some of the poorest members of our nation?

Take Dharnai, Greenpeace’s test village, where residents themselves are buying into a distributed solar micro grid. When I hear their stories, I can’t figure out exactly who or what they are “anti.” Dharnai is a village in Bihar on the Patna-Gaya road. I’ve been to Bihar and seen city and village life. My wife and her family are from Bihar. Large parts of Bihar are very poor and still without electricity.

The general notion behind Greenpeace’s decentralized renewable energy (DRE) pilot is to prove that renewable tech (solar, wind, micro-hydel, biogas, etc.), which are continually decreasing in cost, can be implemented locally and sustainably. More details were unveiled this week, including a Q&A for media, which get into the logic behind DRE.

Thanks to the IB report, I know I should be skeptical; perhaps these villagers are just greedy and want power without paying for it from centralized, large-scale coal, nuclear and megadams. But it really does seem like there might be an opportunity for local solar and other tech to light up villages in Bihar without massive infrastructure, associated costs, subsidies, inequities and environmental destruction.

Maybe another IB report will clear up all of my confusion. Or maybe Prime Minister Narendra Modi could set me straight. He told Parliament last month that he wants to “empower the poor man so that he can fight poverty.”

Solar panels in rural villages do seem empowering. Quite literally, in fact.

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8 Responses to “If @greenpeaceIndia is anti-development, then what is this?”

  1. Rachel Says:
    July 24th, 2014 at 6:40 am

    Hey Adam, thanks much for this wonderful blog post, much appreciated!

  2. Ruth D'Costa Says:
    July 24th, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Dear Adam,

    I work for Greenpeace India. I want to say thank you for putting out such a clear piece and that my resolve to protect this planet is only strengthened by the IB report.


  3. Eve B. Says:
    July 28th, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Great post, Adam. Two quick observations: 1. This is not unlike Brazil’s crack-downs against anti-dam activists. There is widespread general skepticism among the non-social / environmental activist community held in the Amazon against Greenpeace, specifically. Even when Greenpeace is comprised of domestic nationals in the local offices and amongst activist teems, I’ve seen bumper stickers saying “Get out, Greenpeace, the Amazon is Brazil’s!”. National sovereignty plays out more there than in India perhaps, but it always dovetails with the defense of rights to development argument, which is facile, at best, as you nicely point out. Foreign funding is only bad when it not is serving the interests of big business or modernization oriented development seems to be the underpinning message! 2. Action Aid and Amnesty International are also mentioned in the IB report. It reads like a facile conspiracy theory of Western Governmental imposition of interest as if those governments are the donors themselves to these org’s and as if they are hand-in-glove with the NGOs. Could the BI analysts be so analytically sharp as to do the number crunching on the economic impact estimate like the 2-3% (which, if true, is perhaps a huge compliment to Greenpeace and co., actually!), but then so dumb in terms of foreign policy analysis??

  4. Adam Jadhav Says:
    July 29th, 2014 at 1:18 am

    The Intelligence Bureau is a force of crack police investigators with little experience in economic, environmental, accounting or development matters. As such, I have to believe that they’re completely qualified to take up a methodologically complex task such as assessing large impacts on GDP. To doubt them would, I believe, make me both anti-national and anti-development.

  5. Adam Jadhav Says:
    July 29th, 2014 at 1:20 am

    I am however uncertain if the IB understands sarcasm.

  6. Eve B. Says:
    July 30th, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    @adam, ha!

  7. Amit Says:
    September 30th, 2014 at 8:10 am

    India is full of poor people and it is possible to arrange such a group of “poor villagers” and make them protest anything by giving them money , IB report traces the root of this money in foreign countries,
    fact is that nobody is selfless , these NGO’s are working for money , they care less if their protests delay projects , all they need is money and their foreign masters keep them funded

  8. Adam Jadhav Says:
    October 1st, 2014 at 3:56 am


    Certainly, I agree that any group can be “bought” or captured by certain logics. That includes, by the way, our government and our middle and upper classes.

    To be honest, I think you’re repeating a narrative that is highly convenient (and rather strategic) for our government and India Inc. I think we have to be very careful of any discourse that treats an India “full of poor people” as some how homogenous. Furthermore, if poor people were so easy to “arrange” (by buying them off, as you suggest), it seems more logical that they would be bought off by “development” and industry, which is common with officials. That millions of “poor villagers” stand in protests suggests that there’s something pernicious about development that we should be questioning, rather than simply suggesting that NGOs are all anti-national and anti-development as the CBI does.

    In my opinion, the CBI report showed no such “foreign master,” but rather a global civil society that has strong, popular support here in India as well. When the government (with industry behind it) moves actively to suppress popular participation and dismisses it so easily, I am inclined to believe troubled times lie ahead.

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