Environmental policy is another area in which foreign-funded thinktanks have a significant impact.
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), headed by Sunita Narain with a governing board that has Ela Bhatt, BG Verghese, Dr MS Swaminathan and Dr NC Saxena among others, has received over Rs 67.7 crore in foreign funds between 2006 and 2012.
The CSE’s main donors, according to FCRA records, include the Denmark- based Dan Church Aid, Germany-based Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst EV, Heinrich Boll Foundation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
Other donors include the Commission of European Communities and Government of India.
Going by the media coverage that CSE receives, it is safe to say that this thinktank has a profound influence on India’s environmental policy. An indication of its ties with the Government is the fact that the two had their own ‘side-event’ at the recently concluded Doha talks on climate change.
The other green thinktank with generous foreign contributions that works closely with the Government is The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).
Consider this: the International Bioenergy Summit of 2012 held in New Delhi was organised by TERI and sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
According to its FCRA filings, TERI, with a staff of over 900, has received about Rs 155.9 crore between 2006 and 2012 from a vast variety of donors.
In the human rights space, there is the famous Lawyers Collective, which, apart from its human rights advocacy, also provides legal aid to members of disadvantaged communities.
Although this collective does not appear to work all that closely with the Government, it is interesting to note that it was founded by Indira Jaising, who is currently one of the Centre’s Additional Solicitor Generals.
Since 2006, according to its FCRA filings, the organisation has received around Rs 21.8 crore in foreign funds from the Ford, Levi Strauss and Open Society foundations and from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, among others.
The above examples demonstrate the influence of foreign funded thinktanks on almost every major aspect of Indian policy today, be it economic or environmental, related to public health or internet governance.
Is this good or bad for India as a country? Given that most sectors of the economy are now open to foreign investment, does it make sense to regulate and restrict foreign funds for such thinktanks under laws like the FCRA?
The answer depends on what Indian society expects of them. Do we expect them to be completely independent of donors in their views? Would an organisation like the CSE still get foreign funds from European donors if it were to readily welcome genetically modified (GM) food in India? In such circumstances, how independent should we expect these thinktanks to be in the arena of policy?
Take, for example, a recent Parliamentary Standing Committee report that expressed serious reservations about GM food. The Committee repeatedly quotes with approval the deposition of Dr Vandana Shiva against GM food.
A little-known fact about Dr Shiva is that her organisation, Navdanya, according to its FCRA filings, has received a total of Rs 16.7 crore between 2006 and 2012 in foreign donations from mainly European organisations (some of which also contribute to the CSE) like Bread for the World, Diakonie Emergency Aid, Hivos Foundation, Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst EV, RSF Innovations in Social Finance, and even from the European Union itself.
Would a Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by an MP of the CPM, a party that is always suspicious of the ‘foreign hand’, show the same deference to Dr Shiva’s views if its members knew of Navdanya’s European donors, several of which are also Christian churches?