It's a high-stake game. Playing it, though, is easy. Based on the popular Pac-Man Game, it involves saving three turtles that are being hounded by four demons. But this is no ordinary video game. Launched by environment advocacy group Greenpeace, the game is a protest over a deep sea port being set up by Tata Sons in Dhamrapur in Orissa, which the group says is home to the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle. Called Turtle-vs-Tata, the game has the demons shaped like the Tata logo and the name of one of the demons, Ratty, is a dig at Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata. Calling it an infringement of its trademark right, the group filed a defamation case against Greenpeace seeking damages of Rs 10 crore. The stakes are high for the environment organisation. Greenpeace, therefore, has upped the ante. Recently, it sent out mass e-mailers to people pointing towards "double standards of the UPA government".
It recently also brought out advertisements in leading UK dailies, highlighting the alleged impact the Tata project will have on the Olive Ridley turtle. Vivek Sharma, communications director, Greenpeace, says: "Tatas are a multi-national corporation. Dhamra, therefore, is a global issue."
Greenpeace has not let the ball drop on the Dhamrapur project ever since it took it up in 2004. Last year, it commissioned an independent study on the impact of the project on the bio-diversity in the Dhamrapur area. In its report submitted to Greenpeace, the research team from North Orissa University led by scientist Dr S K Dutta said it didn't see any live turtles during its visits to the area. "We made nine offshore trips to the area but didn't sight any live turtles and this is what we said in our report."
The report that Greenpeace put out for the public, however, added a qualifier to this finding, saying that no turtles were found because it was past the peak congregation season. A member of the research team differs. "The period during which we went to the site falls under the mating season (of the turtles)," he says, requesting anonymity. Dutta didn't raise any objection to Greenpeace's inference because he says: "They didn't tamper my report but made these observations only in their prelude to my report." NOU vice chancellor, however, raised an objection to Greenpeace's additions and called it fabrication of the report.
Greenpeace says it only "edited and corrected the language of the technical report to make it comprehensible for common people". It also alludes to foul play on the part of NOU in raising objections. "NOU was forced by the Orissa government to change its stand," alleges Ashish Fernandes, Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace.
Greenpeace, which calls itself the environment watchdog of society, focuses on six main environment-related areas globally—climate and energy, oceans, forests, genetically-modified (GM) food, toxins, peace and disarmament. In India, it runs its projects under most of these campaigns, except for forests. Some more visible among these include its multi-pronged, high-pitched anti-GM food campaign, sustainable agriculture and anti-pesticides project, opposition to coal-based energy, green information and technology project, protests against the chlorine industry, and trade involving ship-breaking, toxic waste management and corporate accountability project.
Its strategy is to grab eyeballs. In its campaign against GM food, Greenpeace engaged a public relations and advertising agency to make its protests more creative and launch a comprehensive online drive, including interesting e-mailers, blogs and even videos.
On August 25, the day Lok Sabha was going to take up the Nuclear Liability Bill, a few Greenpeace activists climbed up lamp posts on the road leading to Parliament to bear witness to the "dastardly event".
Unlike most global NGOs active in India, Greenpeace arrived late—in 2001, a decade after economic liberalisation. Greenpeace's executive director Samit Aich describes India as a land of multifarious opportunities and diverse challenges. "India's impressive growth rate, its flourishing middle class, their rising disposable incomes, and the emerging challenges, thereof, make it an attractive destination." Engaging with this aware section of the society, which also has "disposable income to invest in social causes", is Aich's primary mandate. His global bosses—the top leadership co-incidentally comprises two Indians, Maharashtra-based Lalita Ramdas holds the group's global chair and its global executive director Kumi Naidoo is a South African of Indian origin—feel India has the potential to do better.
Aich and his team are working relentlessly to attain the "size". Despite being a late entrant, Greenpeace, today, is the most vociferous voice in India's vibrant civil society space. "They have emerged as a powerful entity in their chosen area thanks to their raider like approach on issues," says Dunu Roy, noted environmentalist and director of Delhi-based advocacy group Hazards Centre. "The sheer amount of noise they make, and the outlandish (described as creative by Greenpeace) ways in which they conduct their protests, has helped them build an instant recall."
Greenpeace India has 14 offices across the country, 300-odd staffers and an equal number of volunteers, some 500,000 cyber activists and more than 100,000 donors. "We are a global organisation run by Indians and for Indians," says Aich, proudly adding that "our revenues have grown more than 25 per cent in the past three years". Their growth, however, has brought its share of controversies. As Greenpeace expands its footprint in India, also emerging is an equally large section of critics, comprising independent scientists, peers as well as Greenpeace's targets, who are questioning the group's motivations and its modus-operandi.
"Their primary occupation is whipping up public frenzy and cashing on it," says Prodipto Ghosh, former environment secretary and a key voice in global climate negotiations.
Besides its penchant for controversies, questions are being raised about Greenpeace's funding model, excessive spends on its own sustenance, its strategy to hound only the big cats in policy-making and corporate spheres, and its allegedly scientifically-flawed stances on issues.
An EU mouthpiece?
"Greenpeace is an extremely well-funded organisation. In terms of annual revenues (196 million euros in 2009) alone, it will be bigger than many global corporations," says Ghosh. "Couple this with their presence across several (around 40) countries around the globe, and it's clear they have the wherewithal to make an issue out of anything they choose to pick," he says.
Raising questions over Greenpeace's source of fundings, Ghosh says, "The claim that they raise funds only from individuals is suspect...the issues they pick and the stands they take clearly reveal their slant towards European Union's environment agenda. This suggests some kind of institutional support to them from EU."
EU countries are its biggest source of funds. In 2009, it contributed more than 50 per cent to the global kitty, followed by the US and Canada. There is, in fact, a series of curious co-incidences about Greenpeace and EU. Greenpeace's stand on climate and energy (it openly called upon Montreal Protocol signatories last year to support EU and Switzerland's stand on global warming gases), and its demand to ban GM food, for instance, are in absolute consonance with EU's stated policies. In terms of resources deployed, these two are the biggest campaigns Greenpeace follows globally. In India, the climate and energy project accounted for 48 per cent of the total spends of around Rs 12 crore. Interestingly, Tata Sons also has a significant EU connection thanks to its significant business interests following its high-profile acquisitions in steel, automobiles and consumer products space.
Science and fiction
Globally, there has been wide ranging criticism of Greenpeace's scientific stand on various issues such as GM food and ban on certain chemicals. Dr Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace who served the organisation in leading roles for 15 years, says he quit the group in protest against its questionable scientific policies. A Ph.D in Ecology from the University of British Columbia in Canada, the place of origin of Greenpeace, and Chair and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies, a US-based pro-environment organisation, Moore says he moved out of the group "because my fellow directors began to adopt policies I could not support with my scientific background, such as the campaign to ban chlorine worldwide. I disagree with their positions on forestry, agriculture, mining, aquaculture and energy."
Dr C S Prakash, a professor teaching plant molecular genetics in Tuskegee University in the US, has publicly said that Greenpeace's relentless attack on GM food is not just misleading but outright dangerous. "It has effectively prevented millions of people in the developing world, including India from benefitting from lifesaving innovations such as Golden Rice," he said in email response to The Sunday Express. "The primary motivation behind Greenpeace's attack on GM foods is their anti-corporate and anti-science stance and the funding such activism generates. Its 'anti-GM' stand is a lucrative business operation for this NGO," he says.
Likewise, Dr Shanthu Shantharam, executive director of the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE), a forum of Indian biotechnology companies, says: "They are rewriting modern molecule genetics as we all know it. It is a wanton attempt to confuse the public and scare them out of their wits about GM crops." Greenpeace denies the allegations. "All the research in this area, so far, has been conducted by the corporations pushing GM food," says Sharma.
A look at Greenpeace's income and expenditure account of 2009 also reflects that organisational support costs and fund raising accounted for almost 90 per cent of the group's total income of Rs 10 crore. "Our job is mainly about passion. That said, we do not believe that those who do social work aren't entitled to decent remunerations." He, however, clarifies that Greenpeace doesn't pay its people "corporate salaries." Fund-raising accounted for around 40 per cent of the donations raised.
In India, of around 300 people employed with Greenpeace, around 110-120 are primarily responsible for fund-raising.
"We usually avoid low-key donations and one-off donors," says a senior executive of the company. We encourage people to donate to us for at least three to six months and a minimum of Rs 2,000 a month. To get prompt commitments, our fund-raisers move around with electronic swipe machines and forms for allowing direct debits," he says. Some critics label Greenpeace's operations as self-serving. "They (Greenpeace) say they want to save people who are breaking ships but do nothing to help them. They say they want to help aboriginal people but give them nothing," says Moore. Roy of Hazards Centre says it's a common trend in the advocacy space. "If passion turning into a profession is a crime, then, most NGOs are guilty of it," says Roy. He, however, adds that in its fight against corporations, Greenpeace itself is becoming a corporation.
Greenpeace, however, is undeterred by the controversies. The organisation is expanding and Aich hopes to close the year 2010 with at least 25-30 per cent increase in funds.