• Avantika Mehta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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  • Updated: Feb 07, 2015 08:17 IST

Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai

Terming the offloading of Greenpeace India activist Priya Pillai as “inappropriate”, the Delhi high court Friday said the government must learn to distinguish between “nationalism and jingoism”.

The court’s observation came after additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain claimed Pillai was stopped from taking a flight to London on January 11 on the basis of “secret information” that her visit was “a serious threat to the nation and the speech she is going to make there is against the nation”.

The 37-year-old activist — known for her campaign against a big corporate coalmine project in Mahan, MP — was turned away by immigration officials at Delhi’s IGI Airport despite having a valid business visa to travel to London. She was scheduled to address British parliamentarians there on January 14 on alleged human rights violations at Mahan — and managed to keep her appointment via Skype.

Pillai has in her petition termed the government action “illegal and arbitrary” and challenged the Intelligence Bureau’s lookout circular against her, on the basis of which her passport was stamped ‘offload’. She has also sought permission to visit the British capital.

Jain said the government had only stopped Pillai on receiving specific inputs from the IB.

But Justice Rajiv Shakdher pointed out that many people who indulged in anti-national activities were still travelling abroad. This was the second time in as many hearings that the judge was expressing concern over the government’s argument that Pillai was offloaded due to fears that she may indulge in anti-national activities.  Directing the Centre to file its submissions by February 10, he fixed the next hearing for February 18.

“The illegal offloading by overzealous government agencies is not just a violation of her basic right to personal liberty and freedom of speech but is also a deliberate attempt to malign her reputation,” said Indira Jaisingh, Pillai’s lawyer.

Before the Pillai episode, a UK-origin Greenpeace worker was refused entry to India in September 2014. The government had also frozen foreign fund transfers to Greenpeace and other NGOs last year, though the high court recently ordered that the block be lifted.