HC rules in favour of Greenpeace Pillai: State can’t muzzle dissent

She was offloaded from a flight to London two months on the government's orders.

By: Press Trust of India Written by Aneesha Mathur | New Delhi | Updated: March 13, 2015 2:06 am
Priya Pillai, greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, activist Priya Pillai, greenpeace, Delhi High Court, tribal rights, forest tribal rights, forest rights, MHA, ministry of home affairs Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai. (Source: Twitter)

Sending a terse message to the government against “muzzling” voices of dissent, the Delhi High Court directed authorities Thursday to expunge the “offload” remark from the passport of Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, remove her name from a database and allow her to travel abroad.

Stating that the right of free speech and expression “necessarily includes the right to criticise and dissent”, Justice Rajiv Shakdher, in a 39-page order, said: “Criticism, by an individual, may not be palatable; even so, it cannot be muzzled. Many civil right activists believe that they have the right, as citizens, to bring to the notice of the state the incongruity in the developmental policies of the state. The state may not accept the views of the civil right activists, but that by itself, cannot be a good enough reason to do away with dissent.”

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Pillai’s right to travel abroad, the judge said, “cannot be impeded only because it is not in sync with policy perspective of the executive”.

Welcoming the order, senior advocate Indira Jaising, who represented Pillai in the case, said the decision had “elevated” the right to dissent to a constitutional right. “In today’s context, where there is a majoritarian government, the citizen must have a right to dissent,” she said.

Pillai was stopped at Delhi airport on January 11 while heading to London to speak on the alleged violation of forest right of tribals in the Mahan coal block area of Madhya Pradesh. She was later told that her name was in a database of persons who were not allowed to leave the country.

During the hearing in court, the Centre said she was stopped because her speech before a UK parliamentarian group would have created a “negative image” of India abroad and “whittle down foreign direct investments”. The government claimed that she was involved in “anti-national activities”.

Justice Shakdher said dissent with regard to development models are “always there” but “travelling abroad and espousing views” without any criminal intent “cannot, in my opinion, put Ms Pillai in the category of an anti-national element”.

“Contrarian views held by a section of people on these aspects cannot be used to describe such section or class of people as anti-national,” he said.

“If the view advanced on behalf of the respondents is accepted, it would result in conferring uncanalised and arbitrary power in the executive, which could, based on its subjective view, portray any activity as anti-national. Such a situation, in a truly democratic country, which is governed by rule of law, is best avoided.”

Justice Shakdher said “anti-national” activities under the Passports Act will “have to be confined to activities of persons who fall in the category of ‘counter-intelligence suspects and/or terrorists’ as it would be defined under reasonable restrictions to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution”.

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  1. S
    Mar 12, 2015 at 12:09 pm
    Vultures who survive on the corpses of poor Indians.
    1. Atul Gurtu
      Mar 12, 2015 at 1:18 pm
      That is why we need the judiciary, to prevent arbitrary and capricious actions by the executive. What the government did was in fact unconsutional. Every citizen has a right to hold an opinion different from the government's and to travel and to make known her opinion anywhere in the world. Government should counter it with their own argumants and convince people or other countries that they make more sense. Just because Big Brother has the power, it's not done to exercise it in such a crude and blatant way. Three cheers for the judiciary!
      1. S
        Mar 12, 2015 at 2:59 pm
        Greenpeace is an enemy of the nation. The HC has not the power to protect this Greenpeace-member. She had all chances to put her complains before the Indian Parliament-members and had not a single justification to seek attention of former looters parliamentarians. Her thought has been poisened with anti-national propaa supplied by foreigners and her w nature has changed. She even can not put her beautiful native dress on, instead, she became a "foreign-monkey" jumping from one branch to the next one. All the foreign NGO�s -Greenpeace included- are a danger for the stability of Hindustan. Throw them out of the country! Hindustan do not need them.
        1. D
          Damaru Prasad
          Mar 12, 2015 at 4:39 pm
          Why is IE so excitedly reporting about this girl from Greenpeace? Why? Is it so important? Angrez chale e gulami nahi i kyon? It seems you find glamor in reporting about western NGOs.
          1. D
            dk acharya
            Dec 6, 2015 at 11:12 am
            an excellent move by the court.all the best to Priya Pillai. today i heard her views in rajya sabha tv. excellent.
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