HC slams Centre, terms Greenpeace activist's offloading 'illegal', says right to criticise can't be 'muzzled'

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Thursday set aside the Central Government's decision to offload Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from an aircraft to London two months back, saying it was "illegal" and that the right to criticise cannot be "muzzled" by the State.

Justice Rajiv Shakdher said Pillai has a fundamental right to travel abroad and also she has every right to hold a different opinion on development policies and this cannot be the sole ground to restrict her movement.

Besides quashing the look out circular (LOC) issued against her by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the court also asked the government to remove her name from the database of individuals barred from leaving the country.

Though the court declined to order inquiry against the officials involved in her offloading, it directed Bureau of Immigration to expunge the endorsements made on the activist's passport while offloading her from an aircraft on January 11 while she was going to London to make a presentation before British MPs on an alleged human rights violation at Mahan in Madhya Pradesh.

"...The core aspect of democracy is the freedom of an individual to be able to freely operate, within the framework of the laws enacted by Parliament. The individual should be able to order his or her life any way he or she pleases, as long as it is not violative of the law or constitutes an infraction of any order or direction of a duly constituted court, tribunal or any statutory authority for that matter. 

"Amongst the varied freedoms conferred on an individual (the citizen), is the right of free speech and expression, which necessarily includes the right to criticise and dissent. Criticism, by an individual, may not be palatable, even so, it cannot be muzzled," the court said.

"There was no basis for the government to issue an LOC against her. The decision taken to detain her at the airport on January 11, 2015 in my opinion, was illegal being violative of the Pillai's right under Article 21 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution," the court addded.

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