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Greenpeace India appoints new chief amid legal battles

New Delhi – Greenpeace India said Wednesday it had appointed a new director to steer the group forward amid ongoing legal battles with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Greenpeace Executive Director India Samit Aich gestures as he addresses a press conference in New Delhi on May 21, 2015 © AFP/File Sajjad Hussain

The campaign group said Ravi Chellam, an environmentalist who has worked with the United Nations Development Programme and wildlife organisations, assumed his role as executive director earlier this month.

His predecessor Samit Aich resigned last June together with programme director Divya Raghunandan over their handling of sexual harassment complaints and a rape allegation, although neither was directly implicated in the cases.

“Ravi will anchor the NGO, which has been facing a series of challenges from a variety of government agencies, and renew the organisation’s focus on campaigns,” the group said in a statement.

Greenpeace, which has been in India for 15 years, has been embroiled in legal battles with the Modi-led government over its funding and local operations, although it has managed successfully to defend itself.

In the most recent case, the Madras High Court in November temporarily halted a government order cancelling the group’s licence in the country, allowing it to continue operating.

Earlier in 2015 New Delhi suspended Greenpeace’s foreign funding licence and froze its domestic bank accounts for alleged rule violations.

The environmental group later succeeded in removing those legal blocks.

“Over the last year, Greenpeace India has had to defend itself against a barrage of charges, but has drawn strength from… the judiciary which has upheld our position time and time again,” the group’s new head Chellam said in the statement.

Greenpeace says the authorities’ actions are motivated by its criticism of the government, which it accuses of causing environmental degradation by excessive use of coal power, deforestation and nuclear projects.

The group has also accused federal authorities of placing its campaigners on suspicious persons list after some were barred exit and entry into the country.

Indian media have reported on a secret intelligence document that apparently warned delays to key development projects sought by Greenpeace and other groups could knock three percentage points off India’s annual growth rate.