‘Government Must Stop using Intelligence Agencies to Repress Democratic Dissent’

Statement by mass organisations and concerned individuals condemning state intimidation against activists and people’s groups.

We, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the ‘offloading’ of environmental activist Priya Pillai, associated with Greenpeace India, at the Delhi airport on 11th January 2015. Ms. Pillai was travelling with valid travel documents to address British parliamentarians on the violation of rights of forest communities in India due to coal mining activities by Mahan Coal Ltd, a Joint Venture between Essar and Aditya Birla Group, promoted Hindalco Limited. She is also associated with the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti, a non-violent affected people’s movement that addresses environmental and rights violations in the region by Mahan Coal Limited. NAPM

Concerned authorities have stated that Ms. Priya was not allowed to travel as per orders of the Central Government. However, news reports on 13th January stated that the Foreigner’s division of MHA had issued no such order restricting her travel. It then appears that the decision was made solely by intelligence agencies on basis of ‘national interest’. Rather than an isolated case, it seems that the NDA Government and intelligence agencies are making a habit of preventing activists from travelling abroad for meetings (Recently Mr. SP Udayakumar associated with the People’s Movements Against Nuclear Energy – PMANE, was similarly ‘offloaded’ from his travel to Kathmandu from Delhi). As concerned citizens of this country, we demand to know whether there is a secret database of the Government of India of individuals who cannot travel outside the country.

It is also alarming that commentators are framing Ms. Pillai’s visit to the UK as a threat to the country’s economic security! This is far from the truth and a complete subversion of the issue. The fact is that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had already quashed the stage-II forest clearance awarded to Essar-Hindalco’s Mahan Coal Ltd. in September 2014. This came just two days after the Supreme Court cancelled allocation of 204 coal blocks, one of which was Mahan. This raises questions of why the government perceives a democratic and entirely legal airing of grievances against a corporation engaging in unethical practices, as a threat to national interests? The current government seems to be carrying forward the agenda set in place by the previous government in curtailing activities of human rights activists.  We would like to remind the government and the ruling party that this framing of convenient charges of ‘anti-nationalism’ and threat to economic security against activists is a challenge to the Constitution of India and smacks of contempt for civil liberties. Moreover, to allow intelligence agencies to act upon perceived threat is tantamount to undermining parliamentary democracy and the fundamental rights of citizens. The BJP will do well to remember that it is using undemocratic practices that it once opposed, in the days of ‘Emergency’.

With the recent attempts to water down equitable legislations such as LARR Act, the government is on the defensive and is expecting opposition. Such practices, as well as the current governmental discourse regarding human rights work are an attempt to clamp down upon democratic means of questioning government decisions. It is in the light of such a smear campaign against people and organisations raising uncomfortable questions to the government and who stand by the people in their struggles, that we see the order of the Ministry of Home Affairs against Avaaz, 350.org, Sierra Club and Bank Information Centre. While we condemn such intimidation tactics, we are also puzzled by the action where 4 US organisations are targeted just weeks before President Obama is visiting the country.

At this critical juncture, we, on behalf of solidarity organizations, social movements, and civil society organizations affirm our faith in the Constitution of India and uphold the freedom of expression and political thought. Having differing thought processes with the political leadership of the country on poverty, development and human rights cannot be a reason to curtail individual liberties and freedoms.

We stand in solidarity with Priya and other activists associated with social movements, trade unions and action groups. We demand that the government immediately issue an apology and ask the Ministry of Home Affairs to immediately clarify their actions.

Sincerely,

Kuldip Nayar – Journalist and columnist

Medha Patkar – National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM)

Harsh Mander – ex IAS, former member of National Advisory Council

Madhu Bhaduri -Ambassador of India (Retd).

Prashant Bhushan- Supreme Court Advocate

Amit Bhaduri – Professor emeritus, JNU, New Delhi

Xavier Dias – Editor of ADHIKAR

M.Ilango- Chairperson, National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF)

Jatin Desai- Journalist

Kalyani – Activist

Suneeta Dhar – Activist

Vijayan M J-  Programme for  Social Action

Madhuresh – NAPM

Punit Minz- Jharkhandi Organization for Human Rights (JOHAR)

Shweta Tripathi – SRUTI

Philip Kujur – B.I.R.S.A. Mines Monitoring Centre -Jharkhand (INDIA)

Madhu Bala – Activist