Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Greenpeace India activist wonders if it's crime to raise voice against UK-listed company with British MPs

Foresters protest against Essar Energy in Mahan
By Our Representative
Close on the heels of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs declaring in a court affidavit that it “prevented” Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace India activist, from boarding a flight to Britain in January, because her visit was alleged to be “prejudicial to the national interest” and would “hurt” India’s image abroad, the top activist has wondered whether it was a crime to raise the voice against Essar Energy, a London-based company. Headed by Indian tycoon Shashi Ruia, Essar Energy plc is incorporated in UK, and has its registered office in London and its head office in Mauritius.
In a blog she has written ahead of a crucial court hearing, the controversial activist said, “I am an Indian citizen who is not afraid to raise my voice against violations of laws that have been put in place to protect the aam aadmi’s rights. I fight to ensure that rampant coal mining in forest areas is only done in consonance with the laws and policies of the country. I believe that the interest of the forest dwellers, who often are unaware of their rights, is inviolable. I stand up for what I believe in.”
Specifically referring to Mahan forests, where "Essar Energy [LSE: ESSR] secured" what it called “stage 2 forest clearance from the Government of India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests for its Mahan coal block in Madhya Pradesh” a year ago, Pillai said, “It planned a is a clear example of how laws are being flouted in favour of foreign corporations like Essar and against the interest of the people of Mahan.” Pillai was stopped from going to London on January 11 as she was planning to board the plane to brief British MPs about Essar Energy's project.
According to Pillai, “I believe the government, which is duty bound to implement the law, has instead decided to act in favour of corporate interest – in this case Essar, a London based company. The Gram Sabha consent for mining in Mahan has been forged and environmental clearances have been granted under pressure despite the area falling under dense forest cover that was originally classified as ‘No Go’.” She added, “I have comprehensive evidence that establishes this."
“To ensure that Essar, which is registered in London, does not get away scot free, I decided to speak to British MPs who are concerned about tribal rights. It is essential for them to let Essar know that it is not acceptable to violate Indian laws. If this is not in National interest – what is? How can raising questions about a London based company violating Indian laws be against Indian interest?”, Pillai, who is a climate & energy campaigner at Greenpeace India, said.
The issue has already attracted international attention, with New York Times (NYT) reporting on Pillai approaching court petitioning against the Ministry of Home Affairs, asking for “her right to travel to Britain to be reinstated, as well as for monetary compensation for mental trauma and harassment.” NYT said, “The case has raised alarm among some NGOs which say the government of the new prime minister, Narendra Modi, is continuing the previous government’s policy of singling out NGOs that it believes are hurting the country’s potential for economic growth.”
NYT added, “Pillai’s case is just the most recent instance of government action against Greenpeace India. In 2014, the government froze $267,000 in funds from Greenpeace International and ClimateWorks, an American organization, meant to go to Greenpeace India, an action the Delhi High Court overturned in January. In another instance, the Income Tax Department taxed contributions to Greenpeace India for 2010-11 as income, the group said, saying the funds did not result from charitable activity and were therefore not tax-exempt.”

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