The Central Bureau of Investigation has registered a case against lawyer Ritwick Dutta and his organisation, the Legal Initiate For Forest and Environment (LIFE) for allegedly violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act’s (FCRA) provisions.
LIFE, along with U.S.-based NGO Earth Justice, has also been accused of attempting to stall coal projects in the country through litigation.
According to the First Information Report (FIR), instituted on a reference from the Union Home Ministry, the main allegation against Mr. Dutta is that he received ₹41 lakh as foreign contribution in 2013-14 and then created LIFE, which got ₹22 crore from Earth Justice USA masked as a “professional receipt”.
Stalling coal projects
The FIR alleged that “LIFE and Earth Justice are in the process of stalling coal projects in India...EJ [Earth Justice] and Sandler Foundation are trying to take down India’s existing or proposed coal projects and ECF (European Climate)” is routing $1.20 lakh via Earth Justice to LIFE for litigation. Besides, LIFE purportedly had transferred the foreign contribution it received to other NGOs, in violation of the FCRA.
The Ministry said that Earth Justice was an American NGO that funded legal professionals in various countries to litigate against coal projects and along with LIFE, it was complicit in bringing foreign contribution into India to target and stall coal projects, which would impact the country’s economic security. LIFE was not offering any legal advice to Earth Justice for financial consideration, but being paid foreign funds to stall development projects. In none of the cases was Earth Justice a litigant, while in all of them it was LIFE.
In 2020-21, the Ministry said, the agreement between LIFE and Earth Justice showed that it funded the association for litigation in Indian courts, more in the form of grants to litigate, but not in Earth Justice’s name. As alleged, Earth Justice had proposed a five-point strategy to put pressure on the relevant government and/or the project proponent” and asked Mr. Dutta to suggest a project as case study for an international session [April 2017] “to study the application of international strategies to a case in India”.