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Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Another respite for Greenpeace India

Madras high court grants unconditional stay against the closure order issued by the Tamil Nadu Registrar of Societies

New Delhi: Greenpeace India has been mired in controversy for over a year. State and central government authorities have accused the not-for-profit organization of violating various laws—ranging from misuse of foreign funds to breaking the rules of the Societies Registration Act, 1860—and even labelled the organization anti-national.

However, courts have repeatedly granted relief to the organization, finding fault with the methods employed by the authorities.

On Friday, in yet another instance of legal relief, what Greenpeace activists called “a small victory", the Madras high court granted an unconditional stay on the cancellation order issued by the Tamil Nadu Registrar of Societies (RoS) to Greenpeace India on 4 November.

The Tamil Nadu RoS issued an order which was received by Greenpeace on 6 November. The order directed the executive board of the organization to “pass a special resolution and dissolve itself" within a month of the order. This was in continuation of an RoS show-cause notice issued earlier this year in June, where the authority suggested Greenpeace India was a fraudulent organization.

The high court, according to a release issued by Greenpeace, “observed that the Tamil Nadu RoS had not followed principles of natural justice".

The organization, registered in Chennai on 22 July 2002, denied all accusations and made written as well as oral submissions to RoS.

In a statement against the RoS allegations, Greenpeace India’s executive board members said, “We believe this order is completely unjustified, especially as we have complied with the law to the fullest. After a detailed review, we are convinced that the order contains several inaccurate and baseless allegations. For instance, we have been accused of not submitting a detailed response to their earlier notice (the show-cause notice dated 16 June), when we actually have copies of receipts stamped in acknowledgement of our response dated 5 October."

Greenpeace filed a writ petition on 18 November against the cancellation order.

Vineet Subramani, its advocate, said, “This is the sixth court order in favour of the organization. And the unconditional stay granted by the court today goes to show that desperate measures by the government to curb dissent are failing in the court of law."

Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace activist who earlier this year was offloaded from a flight to London, where she was scheduled to speak to British parliamentarians, said, “We draw tremendous strength from victories like these, as they prove that we are secure in both our mandate for a green and peaceful future as well as our constituency of lakhs of Indian supporters. As a people-powered organization, instead of fighting and winning legal battles, we would much rather continue to contribute to solving India’s serious development challenges—air pollution, disappearing forests, the need for safe food and clean electricity for all. Surely, solving these problems is part of the government’s agenda too. We’d like to once again ask them to collaborate with civil society on these issues."

Greenpeace India versus the Tamil Nadu Registrar of Societies

* On 16 June, Tamil Nadu RoS issued a show-cause notice to the not-for-profit organization with 10 allegations

* Greenpeace challenged the show-cause notice in the Madras high court through a writ petition in July

* On 4 August, the court granted permission to Greenpeace to inspect RoS records and submit a detailed reply within four weeks because on the ground that the organization had claimed that it had responded to all the allegations. RoS denied knowledge of any response.

* On 7 September, RoS allowed Greenpeace to inspect its records

* On 5 October, Greenpeace submitted a detailed response

* On 4 November, RoS ordered the immediate shutdown of the organization, denying receipt of any response from Greenpeace and stating that it had repeatedly under-reported foreign contributions received between 2005 and 2012

* The organization filed a continuation writ petition on 18 November, which came up for hearing on 20 November

* The organization proved in court on 20 November that RoS had received its detailed responses with stamped and signed receipts, acknowledgement slips from Speed Post records, online tracking systems and the post office challan book

* The high court granted an unconditional stay against the licence cancellation order issued by the RoS

* RoS expected to file a counter-affidavit in 4-6 weeks

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