NGO demands explanation from the Government
New Delhi, Jan 11: In yet another incident of government clampdown on Greenpeace India, Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner with the organisation was stopped at the New Delhi airport, this morning by the immigration office and denied to get onboard her flight to London.
Pillai had a valid business visa to visit London, where she was scheduled to address British Parliamentarians on January 14 on the rights of forest communities being infringed for coal mining in India. She has been invited by the British MPs to talk about her campaigning with local communities in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh, where a proposed coal mining project led by Essar, a London-based company, threatens to uproot the lives and livelihoods of the forest and the community which lives there.
This has come as a rude shock for Pillai and Greenpeace who were hoping to showcase the strong work the organisation has been doing with Indian people living in the remotest corners of the country and present it at a global platform. Ironically this blocking of her visit to London to make a speech comes on the day democratic countries reaffirm their commitment to free speech.
“I am shocked and saddened that the government has managed yet again to run roughshod over people working to protect democratic rights in the country. I represent the forest community members of Mahan and I was scheduled to tell their story on how the Indian government and Essar, a foreign registered billionaire corporation, are hell bent on trampling their rights and existence that have been guaranteed by none other than the constitution of India. Today my right to freedom of movement has been infringed and there was an attempt to treat me like a criminal”, Pillai commented.
She has been informed by the airport authorities that she is now banned from leaving India, even though she has no criminal convictions against her. Her passport has been stamped with the word: OFFLOAD. The immigration officials told her they are not opposed to her travelling, but they are just following orders from the Indian government.
“Has working for the most marginalised people in the country become an offence in India?” Pillai asked.
This is the second time a Greenpeace employee are been denied a go ahead by the Indian airport authorities in spite of having valid visa. In September last year Greenpeace campaigner, Ben Hargreaves – a UK national – was refused entry to India, despite having a valid visa. Pillai has a business visa to travel to the UK that is valid for the next 6 months.
Commenting on the latest development, Greenpeace India’s Executive Director, Samit Aich said, “The government’s intentions are clear- they are trying to intimidate and bully Greenpeace and its employees but I would only reiterate that such acts only make us more resolute to continue our campaigns on protecting Indian people and India’s environment. We will not shy away from asking tough questions to the highest authorities. Such systematic excesses by the government are a shame and cause of worry for the Indian civil society. At a time when the whole world is making a strong pitch to safeguard freedom of speech and democratic rights, this action by the world’s largest democracy is problematic”.
Greenpeace India has written to the Ministry of Home and External Affairs and to the Airport Authority of India following this arbitrary action of stopping its employees in spite of having the appropriate paper work. Greenpeace is asking the government to explain the legal basis for the ban on Pillai leaving the country.
Last year the Ministry of Home Affairs directed the freezing of Greenpeace India’s foreign funds. Greenpeace India has challenged this in the Delhi High Court and the next hearing is on 20th January.