Greenpeace Activist Priya Pillai to be Taken Off the No-Fly List, But Activists to be Prevented from Badmouthing the Government

In a writ petition filed with the Delhi High Court by Greenpeace activist PriyaPillai, the government informed the Court, that though she will soon be taken off the no-fly list, Greenpeace’s activities will be monitored to ensure that it does not badmouth or embarrass the government before a foreign government. Pillai filed the petition after being forced off a London-bound flight, at the IGI airport in New Delhi, as per the orders of the Intelligence bureau (IB).

PriyaPillai was slated to address an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Indo-British relations in London. Her address related to Essar Energy’s plans concerning Mahan coal block. However, IB had issued a look-out circular against her putting her on a no-fly list. The resultant action taken by immigration to de-plane Pillai flamed a great outcry among the country’s civil society, as neither did she have any criminal antecedents nor was she issued a warning to refrain from travelling to London. Pillai filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the “patently illegal and arbitrary” look out circular issued by IB, demanding that it be struck down.

Pillai had argued that the “malafide” conduct of IB has violated her right to travel to abroad, guaranteed by Art. 21 and the right to practise her profession under Art. 19(1).She argued that IB’s arbitrary conduct has encroached upon her personal liberty and levied undue restrictions on her professional freedom. She has sought the harshest punishment for guilty officers and expunging of endorsements on her passport.

While the government has decided to take Pillai off the no-fly list, they have decided to defend their actions before the High Court. According to the government such activities project a negative outlook of the country in foreign countries and hence, are required to be monitored. Even though the Delhi High Court had observed earlier that IB’s action is “inappropriate”, the government may continue to keep a tab on Greenpeace.

Times of India(TOI) has reported that Government will plead before the Court that Pillai’s act was similar to engaging the UK government and that she may have been planning to embarrass the government on the issue of Mahan coal block. Complaining to foreign policy makers is clearly unacceptable, reported TOI.

Going a step further, the government’s affidavit may also argue that foreign NGO’s purportedly arrange for activists to visit abroad to tarnish India’s image in international forums. It is noteworthy that this is not the first time that a Greenpeace activist has been targeted for his or her views. In September 2014, Ben Hargreaves, a campaigner for Greenpeace, had been refused entry into the country despite having a valid visa and a valid United Kingdom passport. Greenpeace, itself was labelled as a threat to the economic security of the nation courtesy; a June, 2014 report released by the Intelligence Bureau. Greenpeace had been singled out due to its protests against the establishment of nuclear and coal plants in the country and funding ‘sympathetic research’ for its causes. Questions had also been raised as to the funding of such NGOs.

While the Government action may ordinarily be justified in cases of people with criminal antecedents travelling abroad, the ribaldry perpetrated against PriyaPillai is symptomatic of an Orwellian government policy of curbing protests and free speech.