India's Economic Interests Targeted Through Activism: CBI FIR Against Environment Lawyer
In its recently filed FIR document against environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, CBI has accused him of "agitating local farmers" he represented in a PIL against the Adani Group and the Gujarat government over a copper refinery plant.
The CBI had last week booked Dutta for allegedly bypassing Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act to fund legal efforts to stall coal projects.
According to the FIR document, Dutta was allegedly targeting “activities of Adani in Australia… impacting economic interests of nation outside geographical boundaries of India", reports Indian Express.
Additionally, he is accused of misdirecting funds received from FCRA to non-eligible local partner NGOs, including Sangh-affiliated Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, WWF-India, and Samata.
The FIR lists Dutta's clients and mentions the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement as "engaged in protests as per information available in the public domain".
The "main allegation" against Dutta, according to the CBI's FIR papers, is that his proprietorship firm, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), is alleged to have dressed up a grant of Rs 22 crore from San Francisco-based non-profit Earth Justice (EJ) as professional receipt and the two “are in the process of stalling coal projects” in India.
According to the FIR document, LIFE was not offering legal advice to EJ for "financial consideration", but rather was receiving foreign funds to stall development projects.
"In none of the Cases was EJ a litigant, while in all, LIFE was the litigant,” said the FIR document, IE reported.
The CBI filed the FIR after receiving a Home Ministry recommendation that relied on a report from the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) filed on 9 November 2022.
The CBDT previously conducted a raid on LIFE's New Delhi premises on 7 September. This occurred on the same day that Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation, Oxfam India, and the Centre for Policy Research's offices in Bangalore and Delhi were searched.
According to the IE report, the FIR document reproduced a legal status report apparently prepared by LIFE in 2016 on a number of thermal plants and coal mines but it specifically named only one affected entity, twice: the Adani Group.
In the FIR, the Dutta is described as being involved in criticising government policies, making allegations through public media, and agitating local farmers against industrialists and government's industrial policies.
“Kheti Vikas Seva Trust is involved in filing Public Interest Litigation against Government of Gujarat and Adani Enterprises… Dutta appeared on behalf of Kheti Vikas Seva Trust (based in Gujarat (and) formed by local farmers). On analysis of information available on (sic) public domain, it appears that Shri. Ritwick Dutta is involved in agitating local farmers against government policy in Gujarat. Kheti Vikas Seva Trust Vs. Adani Enterprises Ltd," the FIR document added.
The case in question, is pending with the Western bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and involves a greenfield copper refinery plant at Mundra in Gujarat’s Kutch district.
The FIR contains a reference to an email sent by Martin Wagner, the director of EJ, to Dutta.
“They mentioned the example of activities of Adani in Australia. It appears from this that they were planning to target Indian entities undertaking projects outside India," the FIR papers said.
The FIR document stated that such litigations result in project delays and deny energy security to citizens, thus impacting the country's public interest.
Moreover, the FIR suggests that this trend also jeopardises the economic interests of India beyond its geographical boundaries.
Noting that “legal service will be a representation of case where client is a party” and that LIFE never represented EJ in litigation, the FIR alleged that funds from EJ were in the form of donations and not professional fees.
“EJ and LIFE were complicit in bringing FC into India to target and stall coal projects, which is an FCRA violation and it impacts the economic security of India,” the FIR said.
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