What compelled the government to get the Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai ‘offloaded’ at the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi from a London-bound flight on January 11?
This is the second instance of a passenger ‘with a non-criminal background’ being offloaded a plane in two months. Prior to this, Maulana Kalbe Jawad Naqvi, a prominent Shia cleric, was prevented from taking flight to Baghdad and was offloaded on the basis of a ‘Look-Out Circular’ against him on November 24, 2014.
Both Pillai and Jawad Naqvi are still unaware of what actually led the airport authorities to deplane them and stamp ‘Offloaded’ on their respective passports.
“The immigration officer told me that I won’t be able to fly out of the country, and did not give any valid reason. I was only told that I was on a database issued by the Government of India and therefore I was offloaded. Have I been clubbed with criminals or smugglers? I’ve been working at Mahan in the Singrauli coal belt of Madhya Pradesh for the last four years on environmental issues and I represent the forest community members of Mahan,” Pillai told Firstpost.
“I’m trying to find out what my offence was. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials told us that they were unaware of the incident and the reason for my offloading. But, I’m hopeful that the government will look into my case and clarify,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) submitted a report to the MHA on Tuesday on stopping Pillai from flying to London. According to sources, the IB had issued a ‘Look-Out Circular’ to Pillai on January 9, on grounds of “national interest”.
“Pillai hasn’t received any kind of notice nor she was informed about it by the immigration officer at the airport,” a communication officer at Greenpeace said.
But, can the IB issue a ‘Look-Out Circular’ to an individual?
While an IB source said it could issue notice on valid grounds, lawyers beg to differ. “This is a criminal act because in the cases of both Pillai and Kalbe Jawad, it was done without following the course of law. There’s no provision in the law to issue a Look-Out Circular in this manner. It’s issued to an absconder or by the orders of the court or against a person, who’s a threat to national sovereignty. Moreover, this notice can be issued only by a court or by the MHA; the IB can’t do it,” said Mehmood Pracha, senior advocate at Legal Axis Attorneys & Solicitors’ firm.
According to Pillai, she was going to London to give a presentation to British Parliamentarians on January 14 on the rights of forest communities being infringed upon for mining coal in India.
“I’ve a valid business visa and I was invited to London by the British MPs to talk about our campaign in Mahan. I wanted to apprise them on how a London-based company, Essar Energy which is listed with the London Stock Exchange, and not with India’s NSE or BSE, through its proposed coal mining project, threatens to uproot the lives and livelihoods of the forest and the community at Mahan,” elaborated Pillai.
Conjecturing on her offloading, Pillai added, “I could have been prevented from going to London as we were protesting against Essar getting a clearance for mining in the forest area. I was prevented from filing an FIR at Mahan police station against government officials, who had fudged documents by putting signatures of dead villagers on a Gram Sabha resolution. On the basis of it, the district collector gave consent, and later the Ministry of Environment had given clearance to Essar for mining.” According to the Forest Rights Act, a community’s consent is needed for non-forest use in a forest area.
This is not the first time that this international NGO has figured in the IB list and its member prevented from flying abroad. In September 2014, Greenpeace campaigner Ben Hargreaves – a UK national - was refused entry into India, despite having a valid visa.
In fact, it was on June 3, 2014, that the Intelligence Bureau came up with a report on foreign-funded NGOs negatively impacting economic development in India, wherein it had stated Greenpeace as “a threat to national economic security” due to its protests against nuclear and coal plants and funding of ‘sympathetic research’ to support its cause.
The report had accused Greenpeace of contravening laws to “change the dynamics of India’s energy mix”. The report had further added, “Greenpeace’s ‘superior network’ of numerous pan-India organisations has helped conduct anti-nuclear agitations and mounted ‘massive efforts to take down India’s coal fired power plants and coal mining activity’. Greenpeace will take on India’s IT sector over e-waste among other ‘next targets’.”
Speaking to Firstpost on condition of anonymity, an official of the Department of Industries, MP Government, said, “Mahan Coal Ltd is a joint venture of Essar Energy and Hindalco, with 50:50 partnership. Moreover, there are 10-12 companies operating in Mahan. We fail to understand why Greenpeace has targeted only Essar.”
The Essar Energy, in turn, has reportedly filed a Rs 500 crore defamation suit against Greenpeace, which is sub-judice.
“Essar Energy’s registered office is in Mauritius and is an unlisted entity. Mahan Coal Ltd, a JV, has been allotted the coal block, but mining operations have not begun. The company was awaiting approvals from government to commence mining operations when, further to Hon’ble SC orders, the block was de-allocated,” Essar Energy’s spokesperson told Firstpost.
Updated Date: Jan 15, 2015 09:15 AM