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Indian Authorities Stop Greenpeace Campaigner From Leaving Country

Priya Pillai, Greenpeace campaigner (right) / Photo from Greenpeace

Priya Pillai, a campaigner for Greenpeace in India, was scheduled to testify to MPs in the United Kingdom last month on the impact of coal mining in the Mahan province. However, customs did not allow her to leave and stamped “offloading” on her passport. She then went back to her home.

Authorities in India refused to provide an explanation at first but later said Pillai’s trip was against the interests of the country.

“She was given no rationale at the airport by immigration officials, who merely told her they were acting on the orders of the government. Subsequent media reports revealed that two days previously she’d been put on a look-out circular specifically to stop her going to London. She was in fact banned from leaving the country at all. Briefings to the media by government officials reveals that she was banned because the government deemed that Priya talking to MPs was against the national interest,” Ben Stewart, head of media at Greenpeace UK, said.

Pillai was still able to testify through Skype yet noted in a piece for The Guardian how authorities barring her to leave was an “infringement on my fundamental rights, and a shocking blow to the strength and freedom of civil society in India.”

This was not the first time Indian authorities stopped Greenpeace. Ben Hargreaves, a British citizen, was barred from entering India despite carrying a visa to enter. In addition, officials froze $300,000 in funds to the organization until a court in India ruled late last month that they should be unfrozen.

Central to this case is the Mahan province, which contains a vast amount of coal for mining. Greenpeace India is challenging the government’s interest in mining there despite the environment and social consequences involved.

The Indian government was suppose to auction a coal block in Mahan. The Ministry of Environmental and Forests has yet to give clearance.

Essar and Hindalco, the former British and the latter Indian, are companies closely following the situation in Mahan. In fact, they set up, at the advice of the government, a joint venture called Mahan Coal Limited.

The goals of the the companies are made clear through the message of Mahan Coal Limited CEO Ramakant Tiwari:

At Mahan Coal Limited, we are committed to sustainable development and aim to build an organisation that protects the interests and benefits the entire stakeholder value-chain. Our business strategy is built around the three-tier bottom-line approach encompassing people, planet and profits. Ecological responsibility, social welfare and inclusive development are embedded in our organisational ideology and approach to business.

However, mining for coal carries devastating ecological impact as it is the dirtiest fossil fuel.

It is well-documented the coal industry contributes a significant portion to the climate and even a “coal mafia” exists in the country. Moreover, a study earlier this year noted a majority of coal on the planet would need to stay in the ground, along with other fossil fuels, to possibly avoid temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Regardless, efforts by Greenpeace in stopping coal mining in India previously faced harassment and threats by authorities. The Intelligence Bureau, India’s intelligence agency, sent a report on foreign NGOs to the prime minister last year and cited Greenpeace India as a potential threat to the Indian economy.

“This is an attack on civil society more generally on dissent. I think the government saw Greenpeace as an easy target, easily portrayed as somehow foreign. In reality, I think they will have been surprised by the level of criticism they have faced since trying to take down Greenpeace India,” Stewart said.

Pillai went to the the Delhi High Court to remove the “offloading” on her passport. The court requested official justification by authorities as to why they stopped her.

In general, these efforts against Greenpeace are part of a larger campaign against NGOs operating in the country. Officials in India hope to boost coal production as Minister of Power and Energy Piyush Goyal believed it was possible to double coal production by 2019.

“We campaign for a different model of development – one that takes people with it, that doesn’t choke cities and send the planet over the line on climate. That’s not interfering, that’s democracy,” Stewart concluded.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Indian Authorities Stop Greenpeace Campaigner From Leaving Country

Priya Pillai, Greenpeace campaigner (right) / Photo from Greenpeace

Priya Pillai, a campaigner for Greenpeace in India, was scheduled to testify to MPs in the United Kingdom last month on the impact of coal mining in the Mahan province. However, customs did not allow her to leave and stamped “offloading” on her passport. She then went back to her home.

Authorities in India refused to provide an explanation at first but later said Pillai’s trip was against the interests of the country.

“She was given no rationale at the airport by immigration officials, who merely told her they were acting on the orders of the government. Subsequent media reports revealed that two days previously she’d been put on a look-out circular specifically to stop her going to London. She was in fact banned from leaving the country at all. Briefings to the media by government officials reveals that she was banned because the government deemed that Priya talking to MPs was against the national interest,” Ben Stewart, head of media at Greenpeace UK, said.

Pillai was still able to testify through Skype yet noted in a piece for The Guardian how authorities barring her to leave was an “infringement on my fundamental rights, and a shocking blow to the strength and freedom of civil society in India.”

This was not the first time Indian authorities stopped Greenpeace. Ben Hargreaves, a British citizen, was barred from entering India despite carrying a visa to enter. In addition, officials froze $300,000 in funds to the organization until a court in India ruled late last month that they should be unfrozen.

Central to this case is the Mahan province, which contains a vast amount of coal for mining. Greenpeace India is challenging the government’s interest in mining there despite the environment and social consequences involved. (more…)

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.