Government's abusing power, curbing dissent, say volunteers of Fridays For Future

Updated: Jul 25, 2020, 08:10 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Youth-driven climate change collectives fighting against draft EIA policy thank public for pressuring authorities to restore their websites, take back the terror-related charge

Navshya Marya Gavit, a tribal, does farming with his family members at Aarey Colony, Goregaon. File pic/Satej Shinde
Navshya Marya Gavit, a tribal, does farming with his family members at Aarey Colony, Goregaon. File pic/Satej Shinde

A website, which was blocked after it launched a campaign against the Centre's draft policy on environment clearance and was subsequently warned of action under the draconian UAPA, was restored on Friday afternoon.

The volunteers of the Indian chapter of Fridays For Future (FFF) thanked the public for the support when the website came back online after a fortnight, but cautioned that the action taken by the central government only shows that it is "going out of its way to suppress public opinion."

'A terrorist act'

Lakhs of citizens had sent an email, outlined by FFF, to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, raising their objections against the proposals in the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) policy. Following which, the Delhi police's cyber crime unit, on a complaint from the minister, warned FFF that the website's action is a "cognisable and punishable criminal offence under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)" as it depicts a "terrorist act".

After a massive backlash from the public, the Delhi police said they have withdrawn the notice. However, the FFF volunteers, which is receiving legal aid from the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), said they have not received a formal notification yet.

'Govt misusing law'

M Yuvan, 24, a teacher in Chennai who volunteers with FFF, said, "Public participation for the EIA policy is necessary since public review closes on August 11. The government is brazenly suppressing people and organisations that are fighting for human and environmental rights… They are curbing dissent with abuse of power."

M Yuvan, a teacher and FFF volunteer
M Yuvan, a teacher and FFF volunteer

Dinesh Nadar, 18, a second-year engineering student in Mumbai and an FFF volunteer, said, "We haven't received any official notification from the authorities about the withdrawal of the notice." The police notice is "is seen by many as a move to prevent citizens from objecting to draft EIA 2020."

Another site restored

The website of Let India Breathe, another climate protection collective, was also blocked by the National Internet Exchange of India, a firm incorporated under the India Companies Act, for criticising the draft EIA policy. It was also restored on Friday. Let India Breathe founder Yash Marwah said the website was offline for 26 days.

Apar Gupta, executive director of IFF which is also representing Let India Breathe, said, "Even though the websites are now accessible, a degree of legal risk still persists since the Delhi police have not actually corresponded with the parties whose websites were blocked about the withdrawal of the notice."

Gaurav Khare, official spokesperson environment ministry, told mid-day: "Draft EIA Notification, 2020, is in public domain. Any suggestions and public comments can be sent at the official email provided for the purpose i.e. How is spamming Hon'ble minister's personal mail with a lakh emails justified?"

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