Maintaining that travelling abroad and espousing one’s views without criminal intent do not amount to “anti-national” activities, the Delhi High Court quashed on Thursday a look-out circular issued against Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, who was offloaded from a flight to London here in January.
The court directed the government to remove her name from a database on individuals barred from leaving the country.
“Development activities — not now, but for ages — have always had a counterpoint. The mere fact that such debates obtain, or such debates metamorphose into peaceful protests, cannot be the reason for curtailing a citizen’s fundamental rights,” Justice Rajiv Shakdher said ordering the State to expunge the endorsement “off-load” made on Ms. Pillai’s passport.
She was on her way to give a presentation to some British parliamentarians about alleged human and forest rights violations in the Mahan forests of Madhya Pradesh when immigration officials detained her just before boarding the flight.
“We are relieved that the court has cracked down on this undemocratic abuse of power by the government,” she said. The government’s action had sparked off an international outrage.
The court said it had difficulty accepting the “anti-national” argument. “It would result in conferring uncanalised and arbitrary power on 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 the rule of law, is best avoided.”
Government lawyers argued that the look-out circular was legal, as Ms. Pillai had the intention of portraying India in a negative light. Greenpeace International, which was responsible for fomenting protests in India and with which Ms. Pillai was involved, had paid for her travel and accommodation, they said.
The court found the arguments “untenable”. “This is not backed with actionable material. The record would show that while the respondents may have regulated the inflow of funds to Greenpeace International, by having it put in the ‘prior approval’ category, there is no such directive issued either qua Greenpeace U.K. or Greenpeace India. Ms. Pillai is, admittedly, employed with Greenpeace India,” it said.
“We are yet to receive the court order. Legal experts will examine the order to decide the further course of action in accordance with the law,” a Home Ministry official said.
The court said Ms. Pillai’s travel expenses met by Greenpeace U.K. could not be a violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 since this did not amount to a “contribution” and was within the definition of “foreign hospitality”.
The court did not grant the compensation sought by Ms. Pillai, but asked her to take recourse to an appropriate civil remedy if she wished to.