Javadekar complaint on spam prompts shutdown of environment campaign website

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Prompted by a complaint from Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, the Delhi Police’s Cyber Crime unit has shut down a youth-run website, (FFF), which aided public petitions to protest against the controversial Environment Impact Assessment notification, 2020.

The exact nature of Mr. Javadekar’s complaint could not be ascertained but it appears that a deluge of emails with the subject lines on the theme of ‘EIA 2020’ from the website flooded the Minister’s personal email inbox and ended up hampering access.

Mr. Javadekar’s complaint prompted the Deputy Commissioner of Police Cyber Crime Unit (Delhi) to investigate and on July 8 they sent a notice to the company that hosted FFF’s website asking them to block access. This letter cites provisions to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, that potentially entails life imprisonment, and accused the FFF website of “disturbing the peace and sovereignty of India”. Big Rock, the company, blocked FFF from July 10.

A spokesperson for Mr. Javadekar said in a statement to The Hindu: “How is spamming Honourable Minister’s personal mail with a lakh mails justified, when suggestion and public comments can be sent at the official mail provided for the purpose?”

However Anyesh Roy, DCP, Cyber Crime, under whose name the letter went out, said on Thursday that the notice was sent “inadvertently with unrelated sections of the law”. A fresh notice citing Section 66 of the IT Act, that discusses punishment for sending offensive messages through communication devices, was sent on July 12.

The last notice under 66 IT act that was served to the website was withdrawn after the website rectified the issue of bombing emails. The notice was withdrawn on July 16.

However Apar Gupta, executive director, Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), and legal representative of FFF denied getting any new notices. Moreover the website continued to be inactive on Thursday. “We’d be happy if the case was closed. But we’ve got no notices and the site is still inaccessible,” he said. IFF sent a letter on Wednesday to the DCP ‘s office requesting that orders be passed to lift the website’s suspension.

Mr. Gupta said that they also weren’t given a copy of Mr. Javadekar’s complaint.

FFF, whose promoters couldn’t be immediately ascertained, describes itself as a group of “youth and students working on advocacy on climate crisis and ecological breakdown”.

They have denied spamming the Minister and written that all they did was create an email template that people could use, to mail from their own accounts, their criticism of the EIA, 2020. They also added only publicly available email addresses of the Minister and officials, they said.

“FFF India did not actually send any emails and only provided content to help other concerned persons draft their own representations,” their letter notes, “It begs belief that in the world’s largest representative democracy, merely facilitating citizens in asking questions of their elected representatives can be termed as an objectionable activity and facilitating religious hatred. The allegation that such conduct amounts to terrorist acts, punishable under the stringent UAPA law, is wholly ill-conceived and malicious and undermines the entire edifice of the right to freedom of speech.”

The EIA notification is a compilation of updates to the existing environment impact assessment laws but a range of environmentalists have objected to its provisions that reportedly waters down checks on infrastructure projects. Public comments were invited till June 11. FFF and other organisations organised campaigns that saw a host of responses prompting Environment Ministry officials to consider extending the date for comments to late August. Mr. Javadekar, as The Hindu reported earlier, was insistent on a June 30 deadline.

Some activists went to court and the deadline was extended to August 11.

Former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said Mr. Javadekar’s action smacked of an illiberal attitude. “During the debate on Bt brinjal, or the Posco steel plant and even when I said India needs more toilets than temples, I’ve got threatening calls and protesters outside my house. This is par for course as a Minister,” he told The Hindu.

(with inputs by Saurabh Trivedi)

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 12:25:33 AM |

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