Greenpeace activist refutes govt charge of being anti-national

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New Delhi, Feb 19: Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai on Thursday refuted in Delhi High Court, government's charge of being anti-national by maintaining that she was against a company and her off-loading from a London-bound aircraft amounted to curtailing freedom of speech and expression.

The government, however, said "she had plans to testify on the alleged violations of forest rights of indigenous tribal people in the Mahan coal block area" of Madhya Pradesh at a meeting with the British all-party parliamentary group.

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Countering this, senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for Pillai, said "simply because one acts to enhance interests of certain group or community, it cannot be deduced as anti-national activity or secessionism.

"Pillai espouses the rights of tribals who are a part of the Indian Union. I (Pillai) am against a company (Essar) not against the nation", she told a bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher which reserved its judgement.

The judge said he would pass the order on the plea in which Pillai claimed that her right to freedom of speech and expression was being curtailed by an unlawful order of the executive.

37-year-old Pillai was stopped from flying to London on January 11 on the basis of a look-out-circular (LOC) issued by Intelligence Bureau (IB).

She has sought permission to travel to London to make a presentation before British MPs on alleged human rights violation at Mahan in Madhya Pradesh which, she claimed, was the reason for her being taken down from the flight at the IGI airport.

Justifying the government's decision, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain had argued that the situation had "potential for mischief" against India's economic interests.

The ASG had claimed that diplomatic relations were "fluctuating" and existing good relations were no guarantee against "something undesirable" later. 

Jaising in her rebuttal to ASG submissions contended that disallowing Pillai from travelling to London was "completely unlawful and malafide and without any authority of law" and demanded quashing of the LOC against her.

The court, meanwhile, asked the government to give summary of their arguments within two days. She also sought expunging of the endorsements made on her passport when she was taken off the flight by immigration officials.

The ASG had said the LOC was not issued to limit all of Pillai's freedom but "was focused only on the proposed activity of her deposing before a foreign Parliament".

He had further said the government would withdraw the LOC if she gives an undertaking that she would not depose before the UK parliamentary committee on violations in the country.

This was turned down by Jaising, saying her client has a fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 and cannot be deprived of this right, except according to procedure established by law.

Jaising also contended that being put on a watch list by IB, which is not a law enforcement agency and has no authority of law, or having her name in the "secret data base" amounted to being under "unlawful surveillance by the state".

This violated the right of the petitioner to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, the senior lawyer said.

Earlier, the judge had expressed concern on Pillai's offloading and said different points of view does not tantamount to being anti-national and it did not mean that a person's movement can be curtailed. 

PTI

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