Senior Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai, who was offloaded from a London-bound flight she had boarded on Sunday to take her to the U.K. to address British Parliamentarians, addressed them through Skype on Wednesday evening.
Ms. Pillai was invited by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APGG) to talk about her work with the local communities in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh, where a proposed coal mining project led by Essar, a London-based company, threatens to uproot the forest community.
Greenpeace sources said that it had not received any notification or order from the government that it could not accept hospitality from a foreign organisation, if that was the reason for barring Ms. Pillai from going to London as some reports suggested. According to a statement from Greenpeace, Ms. Pillai began her 90-minute address saying, “I am here to represent the people of Mahan and talk about their struggle to ensure that their rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India are not trampled upon. The word ‘Mahan’ means ‘Great’ in Hindi and the community in Mahan personifies that spirit. I am speaking to you today because Essar Energy is a company registered in London. I am all for development. The compelling motivation for me to get up and work every day is to make sure that development reaches all, including the people of Mahan... I urge you to exercise your influence over the London-based company Essar Energy to help stop the environmental and human rights violation going on in Mahan, as it is among the last remaining Sal forests of Singrauli which should not be sacrificed for coal worth 14 years.”
Greenpeace said the MPs were disappointed that she could not be present in person as Skype was not the best way to understand a delicate issue like Mahan. However, they agreed to a video conference because of the urgency of the issue.
Human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, who is a Greenpeace board member, told The-Hindu that under the FCRA there was a set of people who couldn’t accept foreign hospitality, but the government could also stop other people as well. But this could not be done in a secret or arbitrary manner. But was this done in national interest? Ms Pillai had the right to challenge this action and the government must understand that if you had global investment, then you must have global debate as well, Ms. Grover said.