New Delhi: Granting relief to Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, who was stopped from flying to London in January, the Delhi High Court on Thursday quashed the "lookout" circular issued against her and questioned the government`s move to stop her from travelling.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher also directed the Bureau of Immigration to expunge the endorsements "off-load" made on Pillai`s passport when she was off-loaded from a flight to London by immigration officials at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on January 11.
"Bureau of Immigration shall expunge the endorsement `off-load` made on Pillai`s passport. Furthermore, the government shall also remove Pillai`s name from the `database` maintained by them pertaining to those individuals who are not allowed to leave the country," said the court in its order.
Pillai was invited to London to brief British parliamentarians on her campaign with local communities in Mahan in Madhya Pradesh, where a proposed coal mining project is allegedly threatening to uproot the lives and livelihood of a community but prevented from leaving the country by the central government.
In its reaction, Greenpeace India welcomed the relief granted to Pillai, terming "the court`s decision as a vindication of the group`s legitimacy and the validity of its campaigns for the rights of people to their land and forests for clean energy, a healthy environment and to hold corporations and the government accountable".
Pillai, in a statement, said: "We are relieved that the court has cracked down on this undemocratic abuse of power by the government. The bar on my travel was a clear violation of civil rights."
"If this government is genuine about its promise of inclusive development that benefits all, it needs to work with civil society rather than seek to suppress it. We hope that this signals the end of the harassment that Greenpeace India and other genuine activists are facing," she said.
The high court, upholding Pillai`s right to travel and freedom of speech and expression, also questioned the government`s move to interfere with an individual`s freedom.
"Why must the state interfere with the freedom of an individual, as long as the individual concerned operates within the ambit of laws framed by the legislature?" Justice Shakdher said.
"Pillai`s right to travel abroad and interact with relevant stake holders (i.e., the British parliamentarians) to persuade them to have entities incorporated in their country to fall in line with the developmental ethos, which is close to her ideology and belief, cannot be impeded only because it is not in sync with policy perspective of the executive," the court held.
The central government earlier told the court that Pillai was "involved in anti-national activities" and that was why she was offloaded at the airport. It had also said that government prevented Pillai from leaving India on the ground that she would project a negative image of the country at the international level.
However, the court said that travelling abroad and espousing views, without any criminal intent, cannot put Pillai in the category of an anti-national element.
"A person falling in the category of an anti-national element... can only be that person who projects a present and imminent danger to the national interest. Travelling abroad and espousing views, without any criminal intent of the kind adverted to above, cannot, in my opinion, put Pillai in the category of an anti-national element," it said.