Those who suffer most because of the bullock cart pace at which our criminal justice system works are India’s poorest citizens. So you would think that the activists and NGOs who make lucrative careers out of being spokesmen for ‘the poor’ would be pleased with the speech Narendra Modi made to chief justices and chief ministers last Sunday. He talked at length of how the judiciary should not just be powerful but ‘perfect’ and how this could only happen when it becomes easier for justice to be done. He promised to eliminate laws that came in the way of the justice system moving faster. And became the first prime minister to admit that there were serious flaws in the justice system that made justice unattainable for our poorest citizens.
Having just spent a morning in a decaying, dirty Mumbai courthouse bailing out street people who could not afford lawyers’ fees or surety, I was delighted that judicial reform was discussed at such a high level. So it astounded me that those who make a living out of the poor were so angry with the Prime Minister’s speech that they missed its importance. What enraged them was his reference to ‘five-star activists’ wielding undue influence over judges. This comment caused a cacophony to rise in which high-minded lawyers, NGOs and political pundits came together to charge the Prime Minister with trying to create a ‘committed’ judiciary.
Why are these crusaders so thin-skinned? Could it be that in their leftist hearts they know how deceitful their crusades are? Could it be that those who block the production of electricity of any kind know that they themselves could not spend a single day without it? Could it be that those who supposedly work to save the environment secretly know that Indian rivers, cities and the air we breathe are polluted because of their failures?
So let us talk about why these ‘five-star activists’ elicit the contempt of not just the Prime Minister but even of your ever-humble columnist. Let me admit that my problem with them is that while supposedly working for the poor, they often do grievous, irreversible harm to our most vulnerable citizens. While supposedly working to save the environment, they end up earning fat salaries to block projects that would give very poor people half a chance at improving their miserable lives. They do this while ignoring real environmental issues.
At no time have NGOs been so powerful as under Sonia Gandhi’s reign and especially in the last five years when her National Advisory Council became more important than Dr Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet. Her patronage emboldened NGOs to close major infrastructure projects, mines, power plants and refineries. Often this happened through the courts, so the PM’s comments were justified.
What has been happening over the past 10 months is a correction. This is being done not just by the Modi government, but by the Supreme Court. Last January, the Supreme Court passed strictures against NGOs because of the 25 lakh NGOs operating in India, only 10 per cent bother to file tax returns. A CBI report to the court revealed that between 2010 and 2013 more than $3.2 billion came to 22,000 NGOs from abroad.
If Greenpeace funding is now being restricted it could be with valid reason. But it was stupid of the government to have banned the Greenpeace lady from going to London. What the Home Minister should have done instead was ask her why she needed to speak to British MPs about an Indian problem. It is important to ask other NGOs receiving huge funds from abroad similar questions if for no other reason than because NGOs have never been questioned about these things before.
Since Modi became Prime Minister he may also have discovered that certain famous crusaders against his ‘communal role’ in Gujarat were receiving funds directly from the Congress. Among those being paid to work actively towards bringing a ‘secular’ government back to power were NGOs and journalists. The Prime Minister would be doing this country a huge service if he ordered an inquiry and revealed who these people were. It would be just as interesting to know more about NGOs receiving vast funds from abroad.
Let me say that as a careful observer of the projects closed down in recent years under NGO pressure, I have been very puzzled by their proclivity to close projects that would benefit India’s poorest citizens. Rich Indians can generate their own electricity and ensure clean water in their homes. They can even build their own roads if the need arises. If the air becomes too dangerous to breathe, they can migrate to more salubrious climes. The only people who have no choice but to suffer are those that ‘five-star activists’ claim to be working for.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh