PUCL Condemns Arbitrary and Illegal Prevention of Travel by
Ms. Priya Pillai, Greenpeace Campaigner to London
PUCL strongly condemns the arbitrary, highhanded and illegal action of the immigration officials of the Government of India at the New Delhi airport refusing to permit Ms. Priya Pillai, senior Campaigner of Greenpeace, to board her flight to London on 11thJanuary, 2015. Worse still was the vindictive act of the immigration officials stamping Ms. Priya Pillai’s passport as `OFFLOADED’ thereby effectively ensuring that she cannot leave India until and unless the Government of India revokes the unannounced ban on her travel.
Ms. Priya had valid business visa and all her travel papers were in order. There is thus no acceptable reason for preventing Ms. Priya from travelling to London as she is neither a convicted person nor is there any judicial restraint order prohibiting her travel abroad.
It is objectionable and shocking that no reason for preventing Ms. Priya from leaving for London was disclosed by any of the authorities on 11th. Incredibly, the Ministry of Home Affairs has reportedly stated that they had no information about such an order being passed, while the immigration officials state that they were acting on orders from the Government of India. PUCL condemns this shameful action on the part of the Government of India’s officials from shirking to accept responsibility, as it is unbelievable that such a drastic decision could have been taken without the initiative and instruction at the highest level.
The action to prevent Ms. Priya from travelling is particularly deplorable as Ms. Priya was travelling to London at the invitation of British MPs to talk to them about the destructive and potentially damaging environmental and social impact of coal mining in the Mahan forest area of Madhya Pradesh on local tribals and other vulnerable communities. The coal mining project being undertaken by a Essar group company and Hindalco, has been opposed by local people as being environmentally destructive, ecologically devastating and posing serious threat to life and livelihoods of local people.
PUCL would like to point out that Ms. Priya, as a whole time environmental campaigner, was only exercising her fundamental right of free speech and expression (u/s Art. 19(1)(a)) to inform people, including ordinary citizens, decision and policy makers and the media about the ill effects of the Mahan coal mining project, which is well within her freedom.
A 7-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in `Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India’ (1978) held that the freedom of speech guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) is exercisable not only in India but also outside and if State action sets up barriers to its citizen’s freedom of expression in any country in the world it would violate Art. 19(1)(a) as much as if it inhibited such expression within India itself.
Ms. Priya and Greenpeace are only fulfilling their “Fundamental Duties” under Article 51A of the Constitution of India which makes it a duty of every citizen of India to “protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures” (Art. 51A(f)) and “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform”. (Art. 51A(h)). Moreover Art. 48A enjoins the State to “protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”.
The peremptory and unexplained action of the Government of India’ lends credence to the charge that the government acted clearly to prevent Ms. Priya from sharing with the outside world about the potentially damaging nature of the coal mining project and the legal infirmities abounding in the project clearance.
In a globalised world, negative impacts – both economic and environmental – has implications globally and is not confined to national borders. Thus any assertion of rights of local communities, articulation of environmental concerns and creation of public opinion has to necessarily be global. It is therefore sinister of the Government of India to dub rights activists, including the environmental campaigners, as “anti-national” and against “national interest’ whenever the raise concerns of environmental destruction posed by specific projects.
PUCL calls upon the GoI to immediately desist from criminalising rights activities, including environmental campaigns, and give due recognition to their contribution to the nation.
PUCL demands that the Government of India immediately revokes its decision to ban foreign travel by Ms. Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, strike out the stamp in her passport of being “Off loaded” thereby enabling her to travel abroad if all her travel papers are in order. PUCL also calls upon the Government of India to stop hounding and targeting rights activists for coercive or police action and instead create a conducive, non-adversarial, intimidation-free environment enabling people to share, discuss and debate in a democratic spirit crucial issues of development projects and programmes.
Prof. Prabhakar Sinha, President; Dr. V. Suresh, General Secretary, PUCL National