Justifying its decision to stop Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from travelling to London last month for a meeting of the British all-party parliamentary group, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has told the Delhi High Court that the UK, US and European Parliament bring out “heavily biased” annual reports on rights violations which could leave India “open to a potential sanction regime”.
In an affidavit filed in the High Court on February 13, the MHA said “these very instruments” had been “used very recently against Iran, Russia and North Korea, all of which have had serious impact on the growth rates, well-being and happiness of the citizens of these countries”.
“There are indications that the UK parliament’s APPG report on tribal peoples will use Priya Parameswaran Pillai’s testimony to rate India at a low level, leaving Indian open to a potential sanction regime… Unlike at the United Nations, these reports by US, UK and EP do not provide opportunity to the Government of India or the local Embassy/High Commission to record their opinion and are heavily biased against the targeted country,” stated the MHA affidavit filed through an Under Secretary of the Foreigners Division (FCRA Wing).
Pillai was stopped from flying to London on January 11 on the basis of a look-out-circular (LOC) issued by the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The government said “she had plans to testify on the alleged violations of forest rights of indigenous tribal people in the Mahaan coal block area” of Madhya Pradesh.
She approached the High Court which asked the government to give detailed reasons for not allowing her to travel abroad. On February 5, Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain claimed that the decision had been taken “in national interest”. Pillai’s petition is scheduled for hearing before a single-judge bench on Wednesday.
In its affidavit, the MHA pointed to the low ratings for India in the 2014 reports on religious freedoms issued by the US, UK and European Parliament.
“The US Govt., which has an extra-territorial law (International Religious Freedom Act 1999) provides for sanctions against a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC). India has been rated at one notch above the CPC level in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in its April 2014 and the US State Dept. report of July 2014. The report mentions India in a list of 10 countries where it ‘urges increased US Govt attention’.”
“In UK APPG’s Report on Religious Freedom, issued in 2014, various alleged violations of religious freedom in India find detailed mention. Similarly, the European Parliament’s Working Group Report on Religious Freedom (February 2014) places India in the lowest category (alongside Pakistan) as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC).”
“…The vast documentation created through this international network, has the potential to be used as a ‘regulator’ or an ‘instrument of control’ to subdue India’s increasing strength on global platforms. Further, these instruments have high potential to damage India’s growth prospects, at a time when India is actively pursuing economic growth and development, which requires foreign direct investment and manufacturing capacity,” the MHA stated.
“… It is clear that some foreign nations/groups of nations have evolved a system of various ‘instruments of control’ as tools to further their ‘core objectives of foreign policy’… The intention is to use these reports and related documentation against targeted countries.”
The affidavit stated that Pillai was “travelling to UK with the clearly defined motive of carrying out a campaign against the Government of India in order to impact India’s image abroad… one of the very few Indian activists who have agreed to depose before a formal committee of a foreign parliament, whereas other prominent Indian activists such as Medha Patkar, P V Rajagopal, Nandini Sundar, Admiral Ramdas, Aruna Roy, Praful Bidwai, have never been known to have done so.”
“These activists have relied on all the institutions of India’s vibrant democracy as provided for by the Indian Constitution. They have protested through dharnas, fasts, marches, approached Indian courts at all levels, petitioned the state and Central governments and its officials and have extensively used the print and electronic media to make their views known. There is no restriction on the petitioner to follow the same or similar route(s),” the Union home ministry had claimed.