'Fridays for Future India' (FFI) is a website run by youth and students in India. Based on a 'complaint' made by central environment minister Prakash Javadekar, Delhi police has blocked this website and filed a case against its owners under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The notice issued by police is reported to have stated that the content of the website is 'objectionable' and depicting an 'unlawful or terrorist' act. An examination of what constitutes this terrorist act will expose the style of government in India now. The action group in question is the Indian version of the movement Fridays for Future of Swedish teenager and globally known environmental activist, Greta Thunberg.
This Indian body prepared a memorandum arguing that the draft of 'Environmental Impact Assessment' (EIA) notification released recently by the central government is against the interests of environment. They published a copy of the memorandum in the website and made it available in a form that could be sent by anyone interested to the minister as email. Those who actually sent the email, made changes on their own in its text before sending it. But when a large of emails of similar content poured into the minister's in-box, he apparently got displeased with it and informed the police. It took no time for the police to put block the 'terrorist act'. In the notice issued to FFI on 8 July, the police said that their act was a threat to the 'peace' and 'sovereignty' of the country. Further, it also alleged that it also contained 'religious hatred content/material'. Not stopping there, it also accused the youth behind the site of having committed offencesunder Section 18 of UAPA. i.e. of committing or attemptting to commit terrorist acts and offences that lead to blocking internet access under the IT Act. But it was not FFI alone that committed such a grave seditious act. Environment groups like 'Let India Breathe' and 'There Is No Earth B' also are facing legal action for conducting similar campaigns against EIA.
A closer look at what EIA is would tell who is committing environmental terrorism. This draft rule is opposed by environmental activist groups because it is an attempt to to massively exploit nature using the cover of Covid restrictions. Thus it is a ploy to use the pandemic situation to fine-tune the EIA - originally intended as a tool to check exploitation of the ecology - under the ministry constituted to protect the environment, to provide a weapon in the hands of the 'development-crazy' section.
The current draft is intended to remove the safeguards in force at present. The EIA until now has been a set of control and inspection regime to ensure that big dams, quarries, and mining – al touted as massive development projects – do not adversely affect the ecologically fragile zones or conserved forests. But the amendment of 2020 reduces the period of inspections and ensures that there will not be any obstacles. As per law, time should be allowed for parties concerned and the public to register their comments and that is how it happened to be published in the ministry's website. But the Covid lockdown gives a window of opportunity for the government to conceal the anti-environment plank of the amendments. And if, in spite of that, several groups came forward with online awareness campaigns, it is because of their being seized of the seriousness of the matter. It is the online response of the people in a lawful manner that those in authority have now come to view as terrorist activity. Trampling on environment in a big way is not terrorism, but opposing it is viwed as terrorist act! What is visible through these steps is nothing different from the known methods of Modi government.
Before new rules with far-reaching impact are put in force, it is in the interest of environment laws that adequate consultations should be made with scientists, experts and people and due regard should be given to conservative mechanisms like forest laws. At least two high courts (Delhi and Karnataka) had asked the government to invite responses to the proposed notification. Viewed in this angle, the government's act of treating an e-mail response as unlawful could even constitute contempt of court. Although the UAPA is reported to have been withdrawn subsequently, the case under IT Act remains. Further, depite the curb on websites of the organisations are said to have been lifted, they have not been opened for them until we write this. In other words, the government means to send a strong message that even lawful responses should not be made against encroachments on the environment. It is also significant that 278 of the different projects approved since the assumption of office of the Modi government in 2014, are in highly protected areas including biodiversity sanctuaries and national parks.
In fact, even the very slogan of five-trillion dollar economy is being used to allocate any sector to giant corporates, for projects that bring no benefit to the local populations. Covid-19 is a testimony of the fact that a more harmful impact than mere environmental destruction is caused when a damage is made to the ecology of wild life. Like other virus diseases rabies, ebola, nipah, SARS and MERS, Covid also is an organic disease. One reason for the increased human contact of virus-bearing creatures is the ecological damage through loss of their natural habitat. And then, it was in the month of March-19 when Covid-19 was alarmingly rising that Modi government was issuing the draft notification of EIA. The message intended to be sent by the government by booking voluntary bodies is that this terrorism on the environment should not be exposed or opposed.