Features Monday, January 19, 2015 - 05:30
Siddharth Mohan Nair | The News Minute | January 14, 2015 | 5.30 PM IST Follow @SiddharthMNair On Sunday, Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was prevented by immigration officials at the Delhi airport from flying to Britain. A seal of “offload” was marked on her passport. Had she not been prevented, she would today have been talking to and persuading the legislators in Britain why Essar, a London-based company, should not be allowed to setup a coal mining plant in Mahan region of Madhya Pradesh. Though on Sunday, there was no clarity as to what prompted the officials to act in the manner which they did, on Wednesday there were newspaper reports that an Assistant Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had issued a look out circular against Priya Pillai on January 9. There are also reports that her ticket was purchased by Greenpeace that was among few NGOs that had been blacklisted for FCRA violations. The claim of the look out circular is still under question as activists say that Priya Pillai was in India and that she was not absconding. Issuance of such a circular when the person is not absconding and is available for comments or questioning is ridiculous and raises more doubt, an environmentalist said. Since the time of the leaked IB report, the relationship between governments and NGOs has not been smooth. The leaked report itself was debunked by environmentalists and organizations including Greenpeace saying that anti-environmental activities actually caused more loss to the State than their stalling projects were causing. While the government has disclosed less and has kept the activities of these organizations under close watch, the activists accuse the government of using strong arm tactics like this incident to stifle criticism and dissent. It is being said that given that the Supreme Court had cancelled coal projects, including the one in Mahan, there was no point in Greenpeace’s protest. Greenpeace activists respond saying that the allocation of coal blocks could begin anytime, and for them to try preventing it then, after the allocation was made, would have been even more difficult. Greenpeace maintains that their activist’s visit was following an invitation by the British legislators. However, reports that Priya Pillai was going to Britain for lobbying has been surfacing, which per se isn’t bad or illegal. Priya Pillai's incident has fueled a debate within NGOs whether there needs to be a re-think as far as international lobbying goes. “I’ve a valid business visa and I was invited to London by the British MPs to talk about our campaign in Mahan. I wanted to apprise them on how a London-based company, Essar Energy which is listed with the London Stock Exchange, and not with India’s NSE or BSE, through its proposed coal mining project, threatens to uproot the lives and livelihoods of the forest and the community at Mahan,” Pillai told Firstpost. The fact remains that every government looks at international lobbying with suspicion. For instance, on Kashmir, India’s stand has been clear – that no third country should interfere. Now that the NGOs are under government’s radar should not they adopt different means to put across their point? This point gets support from an activist working in an international NGO in India. "There is an atmosphere of distrust and it is important for NGOs to now rebuild the trust factor, with the government and public. This is a sector in which everyone needs to work together," she said. Vinutha Gopal of Greenpeace India told The News Minute that it was essential for Pillai to go to the United Kingdom as Essar was a company based out of the UK and it was imortant to convince UK legislators of the harm that the coal project would unleash in India. Another NGO says, "That may be true. But Greenpeace India should know that there are domestic issues, growing distrust. Couldn't one of their campaigners in United Kingdom not have done the lobbying? This will further add to the perception about NGOs being anti-national, though that is not the case." Counter argument from other activists is that even political parties and governments involve in international lobbying. Rajesh Krishnan, a senior activist who currently works with ASHA says it is “unreasonable” and “ridiculous” of the government to ask NGOs not to do an act which they themselves indulge in. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute

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