The oldest Sal forest of Asia. We are talking about 50,000 people – their livelihoods , beliefs , culture, tradition, way of life, everything which is at stake if the Mahan forests in Madhya Pradesh are cut down.
This is one of the many reasons why I was planning to go to the UK on Sunday morning and talk to Parliamentarians there. The meeting was scheduled in London, UK and it was not my first meeting with a group of Parliamentarians. I have been meeting several Parliamentarians in India: officials in the Tribal Affairs Ministry and at the Ministry of Environment and Forests. I have also been meeting a lot of MPs and leaders of political parties. So, when I was planning my trip to the UK, it was just another meeting for me. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I did not prepare my presentation, and was planning to put it together just two days after I would have reached London. I assumed this would be like any other meeting where I would talk to the world about the exploitation taking place in Mahan. When I reached the airport on Sunday morning, I was in for a shock. The official at the immigration counter told me that I could not leave the country. He took me to the immigration counter base where I was kept waiting for 3 hours without any explanations as to why I had been barred from travelling.
Immigration officers came in and asked, “Yeh case kya hai?” (what is this case) I became a case for them. I was feeling very, very humiliated. I was feeling as if I were a criminal who had tried to smuggle drugs out of this country or as if I was on a fugitive on a wanted list of the Interpol. It made me feel really uncomfortable sitting there. So I constantly asked them to explain on why I could not leave the country. The Air India officials also kept on asking me if they should remove my luggage. But I had no answers and had to say, “I don’t know.”
I was clueless about why I had been stopped. In spite of asking them constantly, no one told me what the real issue was. All they said was that they were following orders from the Government of India. And in three hours’ time, I was on my way home with my luggage.
In the last five days there have been so many excuses and explanations for barring my travel and not being allowed to leave the country by the government. The blame game is going to a whole new level. I still don’t know why I have been stopped from leaving this country. I am being called anti-national, and that there is a look-out notice for me. The notice has not been served to me. I am being treated like a criminal who has been absconding from the law of the land. I don’t know why.
Is it an offence to speak out for the environment, to be an environmental activist? Is it an offence to speak up for the implementation of the Forest Right Act, the Community Forest Right, which I’ve been doing for four years? Is it an offence to gather evidence against the forgery case which a company has used to get a clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest for its coal mine in Mahan?
I am a lawyer and I know that I am working within the limits of the Constitution, and peacefully doing what the Constitution guarantees. I am trying to protect and implement a law, which is the Forest Rights Act. So, as a lawyer it just leaves me wondering, what implementation of law is right and what is anti-national? I don’t know who defines what anti-national is.
Right now, the government is inviting foreign investors to come into this country (and they need foreign direct investment into this country), while we, as Greenpeace, are raising very pertinent issues here, none of which are being heard. On the contrary, people are branding us as anti-national, banning us from working in this country and harassing us constantly. It’s very sad to know that your own government is treating you like a second class citizen, and that you don’t have the freedom of expression and movement that has been guaranteed under the Constitution.
I am not against development. We (Greenpeace) have an opinion that is different from the opinion of the government. We are not destructive people. People are free to go and talk to people in Mahan. Or you can go to Dharnai in Bihar, where we have brought electricity into a village that was dark for over 30 years using renewable energy. We are showcasing renewable energy as a solution to the answer to the energy problems of the country. We are not against anybody. We are just saying that the way forward to tackle energy issues in India is through investment in renewable energy. We need to stop using coal-based energy as we destroy forests, contribute to the carbon emissions and destroy community livelihoods, all mounting to big human rights violations. This is clearly not sustainable. We need to move away from this energy model and look towards greener sources of energy. I am working in this country to give green, clean and reliable energy to Indians.
I don’t know why the government is outraged at me. It’s strange that the lookout notice was issued on January 9 to stop me from traveling Britain to address the British parliament. I am an Indian, I was going to talk about violations of people who are Indians, and I have been against this British company and I have been stopped. So, who is anti-national? I sit here and ponder how this debate of development vs environment is framed, and how it is a false propaganda. We cannot have development if it’s destroying the environment. Especially in a country like India, where thousands of people depend on fisheries, agriculture and forests for their livelihood. We cannot blindly follow the developmental model that the western world has followed for decades now.
Finally, I held a meeting on Skype with London MPs because it was very evident that the government is not going to allow me to leave for the UK. I was prevented from expressing my concerns over the human rights and environmental violations in Mahan by a company that is registered in Britain. So I finally met the parliamentarians on Skype. It was a very positive meeting and through that meeting, the parliamentarians have promised support to Greenpeace and they have condemned government’s move on my travel ban. I feel encouraged by what they have said.
I don’t think I am doing anything wrong. I am not a criminal. My passport has not been impounded.
I just want to tell the world that they are not going to stop us from speaking our mind. I will continue to talk and stand for the rights of the people of Mahan and the environment in India.