CBI books noted environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta for FCRA violation

The Union Home Ministry alleged that Dutta's organisation, LIFE, was receiving funds from USA-based Earth Justice to litigate against Indian coal projects

Ritwik Dutta
Ritwik Dutta
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PTI

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered an FIR against well-known environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta for alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

The action was taken in response to a complaint from the Union Home Ministry alleging that Dutta's organisation, LIFE, was receiving funds from USA-based Earth Justice (EJ) to litigate against Indian coal projects with the intention of "targeting and stalling them", a practice that the ministry deemed a "violation of FCRA".

The complaint, which is now part of the FIR named Dutta, the winner of many reputed awards including Sweden's alternative to the Nobel Prize called the Right Livelihood Award for 2021 for its effort to protect the environment in India through the use of the law.

The complaint alleged that LIFE had received money from EJ (Earth Justice USA), disguised as "professional receipts", which were actually intended to fund the targeting and stalling of development projects.

The complaint also said that Dutta's advocacy group Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) was not providing legal advice to EJ for financial consideration but allegedly receiving foreign funds to stall development projects.

The CBI FIR alleged that Dutta had received Rs. 41 lakh in foreign contributions in Financial Year 2013-14 from EJ, and had subsequently established LIFE Proprietorship, which had received Rs. 22 crores during Financial Years 2016-21 in the form of professional receipts.

According to the complaint, EJ is an American NGO that allegedly provides funding to legal professionals in various countries to litigate against coal projects, and funds had continued to flow from EJ to Dutta for that purpose.

The complaint also alleged that EJ and the Sandler Foundation in the US had proposed to fund legal activism aimed at "taking down" India's existing or proposed coal projects, which would be a violation of FCRA and harmful to India's national economic security.

Additionally, it alleged that ECF (European Climate Foundation) was routing USD 120,000 through EJ to LIFE for litigation, despite the fact that EJ and ECF were not litigants in any of the cases in which LIFE was the litigant.

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