Welcome to “Tolerant” India, Where an Environment Website is Banned For Being “Unlawful Or Terrorist”

Earth

Welcome to “Tolerant” India, Where an Environment Website is Banned For Being “Unlawful Or Terrorist”

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The Delhi Police has blocked the website of Fridays For Future India, which describes itself as a people’s movement for climate justice. The Delhi Police has described the contents of this website as “objectionable” and depicting an “unlawful or terrorist act”. It ran an awareness campaign “intended to draw attention to the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, and make it easier for people to raise their concerns”.

The website has been blocked since July 10. The Delhi Police claimed that it had erroneously sent notices under the UAPA. The police said that these notices have been withdrawn and fresh ones have been issued under the IT Act, 2000. The website of the NGO, however, still remains blocked.

Fridays For Future India is the Indian chapter of the global youth climate movement founded by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg. Under this movement, school students across the globe skip classes on Fridays and hold peaceful demonstrations to demand governments to do more to mitigate climate change. The action against the website was initiated after a complaint by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, who spoke about receiving “multiple emails with the subject name similar to “EIA 2020.”

EIA refers to the draft Environmental Impact Assessment notification 2020, a new set of environmental clearance rules introduced in March 2020. It could drastically change the way environmental clearances are given for infrastructure projects such as highways, ports, airports, dams etc. The FFI has launched an online campaign against the alleged dilution of EIA norms. A template was prepared through which individuals could send their own representations in an email to Prakash Javadekar.

In the UAPA charges that the police later retracted, it had claimed that these emails could threaten “peace” and “sovereignty” of India. Through a thread on Twitter, the FFI objected against the “government muzzling of young environmental voices in India”.

The FFI stated that, “The blocking of the website is shocking and appalling. It is upsetting and disappointing that the government is digitally censoring the movement and accusing the youth of India of doing completely absurd things. Fridays for Future India calls upon the government to unblock the website and let the youth of India continue to fight for climate justice for the sake of democracy, their well being, and their future.”

On Thursday, however, DCP (Cyber Crime) Anyesh Roy told The Indian Express, “The UAPA cannot and has not been invoked in the case. On July 12, we modified the notice sent to the ISP, which does not mention UAPA. It mentions only sections of the IT Act. This too was withdrawn on July 16 as the issue had been resolved.”

Merely disagreeing with a set of policy actions through a legitimate medium like email should not invite harsh provisions under the UAPA or IT Act that are reserved to curb terror and criminal activity. Teenage activists echoing their concerns about the environment deserve patience and consideration from those in power, not contempt and punishment with blatant disregard. That is certainly unbecoming of a “tolerant” India.

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