The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a case against environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta and his non-profit organization for alleged violation of foreign financing rules.
The CBI alleged that Dutta received ₹41 Lakh in foreign contributions in fiscal year 2014 from ‘Earth Justice’, a US-based non-profit organization that funds environmental lawyers in various nations to litigate against coal projects.
Dutta has been litigating environmental issues across the country, from his first case against Vedanta which helped Dongria Kondh tribes win a ban on bauxite mining in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills, to violations of coastal zone regulations ( as it is near Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in February this year). Dutta is also co-author of a book on forest conservation with Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav.
In 2021, Dutta and LIFE co-founder Rahul Choudhary won the Right Livelihood Award for their work, specifically for their ‘grassroots approach to empowering vulnerable communities to protect their livelihoods and claim their right to a clean environment.’
Dutta then set up LIFE Proprietorship, which subsequently received ₹22 crore from Earth Justice during 2016 to 2021 as ‘professional receipt’, the CBI said.
The CBI alleged that Earth Justice and another US-based nonprofit, the Sandler Foundation, have been planning to fund legal activism and take down existing and proposed Indian coal projects, which is a violation of the Foreign Tax Regulation Act (FCRA).
Allegations against Dutta’s activities in India
According to an FIR, Dutta was found to be collaborating with Earth Justice to strategize on how to lobby Indian state governments or project proponents. The FIR further alleged that they were discussing potential projects of Indian companies located in foreign countries that could be challenged legally.
The FIR specifically mentioned the Adani Group’s activities in Australia as an example. This suggests that their intention was to target Indian companies that operate outside of India, which could lead
In 2022, India announced plans to reduce power generation from 81 coal-fired plants over the next four years and transition to more affordable renewable energy sources. However, due to a surge in electricity demand, India asked utility companies in January of this year not to phase out coal-fired power plants until 2030, as reported by Reuters.
Dutta established Life Legal Service LLP to receive foreign funds from EJ, as this was not permitted under FCRA rules in the LIFE Trust. This suggests a possible attempt to bring foreign funds into India while evading FCRA scrutiny, according to Dutta. The FIR reported ‘suspicious payments’ made to many individuals from LIFE Trust’s FCRA bank account.
The FIR investigated public information about Dutta, alleging that he criticized government policy and made allegations against the Indian government through the media. The FIR also mentioned Dutta’s work for the Kheti Vikas Seva Trust, which involved filing public interest litigation against the Gujarat state government and Adani Enterprises. The FIR claimed that Dutta may be involved in inciting local farmers against industrialists and government industrial policy.
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