The past year was a turbulent one for Greenpeace India. The Indian arm of the global non-profit faced government crackdown and was banned from receiving foreign donations; its staff was cut in half in the resulting financial crunch; and employees accused the organisation of botching the handling of complaints of sexual harassment. Last month, Ravi Chellam, a senior wildlife conservationist, was brought in, as executive director, to steady the ship. Chellam is best known for his research on and efforts to protect Asiatic lions. He began his career as a volunteer for the World Wildlife Fund, and went on to work with the Wildlife Institute of India for almost two decades. Chellam later worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society-India, and was reportedly eased out of the organisation due to his support for the Forest Rights Act, which privileges the rights of tribal people to forest land.
Here, Chellam talks to Atul Dev, a reporter at The Caravan, about the allegations of Greenpeace’s past, the possibilities of its future, and its points of engagement with the government.
Atul Dev: How did your decision to join Greenpeace come about?
Ravi Chellam: Over the last 10 years, I have been working with different NGOs—Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE), Wildlife Conservation Society India program, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Foundation for Ecological Security and finally, now, with Greenpeace India.
For about eight years now, I have been a member of Greenpeace India Society. As things turned out last year, Greenpeace India needed a new Executive Director. The post was advertised. For whatever reasons, the search committee reached out and asked me to apply for the position. They said that they felt I should be a part of the list of people they were considering for the position. A formal process was followed and eventually I was selected for the post.