Know the entire story of Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai and why Indian Government is tagging her as “anti-national”

On Jan 11, 2015, the Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was to leave for London to address a British Parliamentary panel of the effects, a London-based British company has organized on forest communities and regions in India. She was stopped at immigration on the basis of a look-out-circular (LOC) issued by the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The government said she had plans to testify on the alleged violations of forest rights of indigenous tribal people in the Mahaan coal block area” of Madhya Pradesh.

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Her baggage was de-planed and the immigration officer claimed that this was being done on the orders of Government of India. Her passport was stamped with the word “offload”. No further reason was given. On 11 th Jan 2015 several Heads of State were also gathered to march for Freedom of Speech in France.

And the latest update – Government offers that Priya Pillai will be free to travel if she submits an undertaking that she will not make submissions in foreign countries. “I will not accept any such gag offer. I was exercising my fundamental right and this is not just about me but the right of every citizen of the country,” said Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner of Greenpeace India, who attended the hearing in the Delhi High Court today. “If I accept that the government has a right to dictate what I can and can’t say, then India and all Indians would lose something priceless – our absolute right to free speech. I cannot and will not accept that.

This taints India’s Democratic Nature And The Rights of all its citizens.

The Fundamental Rights are defined as the basic Human Rights of all citizens. These rights, defined in Part III of the Constitution, apply irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed or sex. They are enforceable by the courts, subject to specific restrictions. The Directive Principles of State Policy are guidelines for the framing of laws by the government. These provisions, set out in Part IV of the Constitution, are not enforceable by the courts, but the principles on which they are based are fundamental guidelines for governance that the State is expected to apply in framing and passing laws.

Following are the Fundamental Rights according to the Constitution of India:

Right to Equality

The Right to Equality is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution. It is embodied in Articles 14–16, which collectively encompass the general principles of equality before law and non-discrimination. Article 14 guarantees equality before law as well as equal protection of the law to all persons within the territory of India. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them. This right can be enforced against the State as well as private individuals, with regard to free access to places of public entertainment or places of public resort maintained partly or wholly out of State funds.

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Article 16 guarantees Equality of Opportunity in matters of public employment and prevents the State from discriminating against anyone in matters of employment on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, place of residence or any of them. Articles 17–18 collectively further the philosophy of social equality. The practice of  Untouchability has been declared an offence punishable by law under Article 17, and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 has been enacted by the Parliament to further this objective.

Right to Freedom

The Right to Freedom is covered in Articles 19–22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the Constitution, and these Articles also include certain restrictions that may be imposed by the State on individual liberty under specified conditions. Article 19 guarantees six freedoms in the nature of civil rights, which are available only to citizens of India.

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These include the Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association without arms, Freedom of movement throughout the territory of India, Freedom to Reside and Settle in any part of the country of India and the Freedom to Practise any profession. All these freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions that may imposed on them by the State, listed under Article 19 itself. The grounds for imposing these restrictions vary according to the freedom sought to be restricted, and include national security, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, incitement to offences, and defamation.

Right against Exploitation

Right to Freedom of Religion

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Cultural and Educational Rights

The Cultural and Educational rights, given in Articles 29 and 30, are measures to protect the rights of cultural, linguistic and religious minorities, by enabling them to conserve their heritage and protecting them against discrimination. Article 29 grants any section of citizens having a distinct language, script culture of its own, the right to conserve and develop the same, and thus safeguards the rights of minorities by preventing the State from imposing any external culture on them.

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Right to Constitutional Remedies

Justifying its decision to stop Greenpeace activist  Priya Pillai from travelling to London last month for a meeting of the British all-party parliamentary group, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has told the Delhi High Court that the UK, US and European Parliament bring out “heavily biased” annual reports on rights violations which could leave India “open to a potential sanction regime”.

In an affidavit filed in the High Court on February 13, the MHA said “these very instruments” had been “used very recently against Iran, Russia and North Korea, all of which have had serious impact on the growth rates, well-being and happiness of the citizens of these countries”. “There are indications that the UK parliament’s APPG report on tribal peoples will use Priya Parameswaran Pillai’s testimony to rate India at a low level, leaving Indian open to a potential sanction regime… Unlike at the United Nations, these reports by US, UK and EP do not provide opportunity to the Government of India or the local Embassy/High Commission to record their opinion and are heavily biased against the targeted country.” 

Priya approached the High Court which asked the government to give detailed reasons for not allowing her to travel abroad. On February 5, Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain claimed that the decision had been taken “in national interest”. Pillai’s petition is scheduled for hearing before a single-judge bench on Wednesday.

In its affidavit, the MHA pointed to the low ratings for India in the 2014 reports on religious freedoms issued by the US, UK and European Parliament.

“The US Govt., which has an extra-territorial law (International Religious Freedom Act 1999) provides for sanctions against a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC). India has been rated at one notch above the CPC level in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in its April 2014 and the US State Dept. report of July 2014. The report mentions India in a list of 10 countries where it ‘urges increased US Govt attention’.”

“In UK APPG’s Report on Religious Freedom, issued in 2014, various alleged violations of religious freedom in India find detailed mention. Similarly, the European Parliament’s Working Group Report on Religious Freedom (February 2014) places India in the lowest category (alongside Pakistan) as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC).”

“…The vast documentation created through this international network, has the potential to be used as a ‘regulator’ or an ‘instrument of control’ to subdue India’s increasing strength on global platforms. Further, these instruments have high potential to damage India’s growth prospects, 

According to Priya Pillai, Mahan is one of the oldest and largest Sal forests in Asia and she has been working in Mahan since 2011. The local communities are dependent on the forest for their livelihoods and the forest is also home to several rare and endangered species. A portion of this reserve was earmarked for open cast mining. Not only would this displace the forest community, but also impact the livelihoods of thousands more who depend on forest produce; and impact the wildlife, water and air in the region. Community members in Mahan formed the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti to protect their forests and rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (FRA) Act, 2006. The block had been allocated to Mahan Coal (a joint venture of Hindalco and Essar). Essar is a British company based out of London.

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She was invited by a British parliamentary panel to talk about my work with forest communities in Mahan. We have equally engaged with all major parties and relevant politicians and administrators in India on this issue, and continue to do so. 

It is important to take note that India’s new government faces a crucial test of its support for big business over plans to let a British-registered energy company “Essar Energy” which is the owner of UK’s Stanlow Oil Refinery – and its partner, the Hindalco company, were granted permission to mine in the Mahan forest of Madhya Pradesh to cut down a tract of forest to make way for an open cast coalmine. It was argued that the coal was needed to fuel a power station and aluminium smelting unit that were crucial for the country’s economic development.

But the plans have placed them on a collision course with the thousands of people who rely on the forest for their livelihoods and with environmental campaigners, including Greenpeace. Among those directly affected are more than 5,000 members of tribal communities with legal rights to use the forest. Greenpeace claims that the mine would mean the felling of more than five million trees, affecting the livelihoods, with at least two villages being razed. It has also raised concerns about the effect on wildlife, which includes leopards and sloth bears. Tigers and elephants are reported to be occasional visitors.

According to Priya Pillai, the act of engaging all relevant stakeholders is part and parcel of her work as a member of Greenpeace and indeed the responsibility of any vibrant civil society in any functional democracy. In this case, the British parliamentary panel were stakeholders as much as the Indian political parties and parliamentarians we engage with. They have the right to be informed of the actions of a British company abroad, and I have the right to supply that information and present the social and environmental impacts of the project – otherwise known as freedom of speech. The act was neither an attack on the Indian Government, nor a violation of the laws of our country. Then why was I debarred from leaving the country? The media has reported that my name was on a “lookout circular”.

A lookout circular is normally issued when a person is wanted in a case but is absconding; or a red corner notice is pending against him or a person is suspect in a criminal case and is feared to flee the country or has restraining orders from a court against him.

By: Naim Naqvi

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