Days after Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was offloaded from a flight to London at the IGI airport in Delhi, it has emerged that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) used the “etc” category in an internal order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to issue the lookout circular that stopped her from flying out. This was done as there was no criminal case against Pillai, officials said.
The office memorandum, issued by the MHA during the previous UPA government, details the procedure for lookout circulars against individuals and gives more powers in “exceptional cases”. The order, accessed by The Indian Express, says, “In exceptional cases, LOCs (lookout circulars) can be issued without complete parameters and/or case details against CI, suspects, terrorists, anti-national elements, etc, in larger national interest.”
A senior government official said as there was no criminal case against Pillai, and she clearly could not have been put under the category of terrorists, her case was put under the “etc” category. The lookout circular against Pillai was opened on January 9 on the request of the assistant director of IB.
Pillai was stopped on January 12 from flying to London, where she was to make a presentation before British parliamentarians on the Mahan coal block issue.
A senior IB official said, “We were just following the orders of the government. The NGO has been involved in anti-national activities and there was a suspicion her travel was not in national interest.” The official added that Pillai’s air ticket was funded by Greenpeace UK, which brought her travel under the scanner.
The MHA order gives sweeping powers to IB to stop anybody from flying out of the country merely on suspicion — otherwise the prerogative of an investigating agency like police, CBI, Income Tax or Enforcement Directorate. Para 8 (b) of the order says, “The request for opening of LOC must invariably be issued with the approval of an officer not below the rank of Assistant director of IB/Bureau of Immigration.”
The office memorandum, dated October 27, 2010, was revised and a new one was put together after a directive from the Delhi High Court to the MHA, while it was hearing a case filed by one Vikram Sharma against the National Commission of Women (NCW). In this case, a lookout circular was opened on the request of the NCW and the petitioner had challenged it. The court had asked MHA to come up with proper guidelines.
The office memorandum also mentions the operative part of a judgment passed by Justice SN Dhingra in the Sumer Singh vs Assistant Director, IB case of August 2010. It says, “Recourse to LOC can be taken by investigating agency in cognizable offences under IPC or other penal laws, where the accused was deliberately evading arrest or not appearing in the trial court despite NBWs and other coercive measures and there was likelihood of the accused leaving the country to evade trial/arrest. It is only when the investigating officer gives details and reasons for seeking it that the competent authority can order the opening of the LOC.”
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