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NEW DELHI: Alleging that Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai’s deposition before a British parliamentary committee would have been “prejudicial to national interest”, the home ministry has in an affidavit before the Delhi high court attacked the practice of western countries issuing annual reports of their assessment of human rights violations in other countries.

The 24-page affidavit filed on February 13 made no bones about the government’s discomfort with these reports quoting “in-person testimony of local activists” and dealing with sensitive subjects such as “religious freedom, tribal people, indigenous people, violence against women, human trafficking and dalit rights”.
Defending its decision last month to prevent Pillai from speaking before the British parliamentary committee against a mining project in Madhya Pradesh, the home ministry said that “all reports from various commissions and countries feed on each other and quote each other, thereby creating circular documentation”.

According to the home ministry’s affidavit, “The US, UK and EU have clearly mentioned in government documents and pronouncements that these reports are made for the purpose of their being used as instruments of foreign policy.”

Ironically, it asserted that these instruments had been “used very recently against Iran, Russia and North Korea, all of which have had serious impact on the growth rates, well-being and happiness of the citizens of these countries”.

The home ministry alleged that unlike at the UN, the reports by US, UK and European Parliament “do not provide opportunity to the government of India or the local embassy/high commission to record their opinion and are heavily biased against the targeted country”.

Fearing that Pillai’s testimony before the British parliamentary committee would have had “a global cascading effect”, the home ministry said that it would have led to “a false and misleading depiction of India’s massive efforts to protect tribal people’s rights and subsequently India’s image abroad, especially when Government of India is inviting foreign businesses to invest in India.”

It also claimed that Pillai was “one of the very few Indian activists who have agreed to depose before a formal committee of a foreign parliament”, adding that “other prominent Indian activists such as Medha Patkar, PV Rajagopal, Nandini Sundar, Admiral Ramdas, Aruna Roy, Praful Bidwai, have never been known to have done so.”

The home ministry vouched that, unlike Pillai, these activists had “relied on all the institutions of India’s vibrant democracy” as they had only “protested through dharnas, fasts, marches, approached Indian courts at all levels, petitioned the state and Central government and its officials and extensively used the print and electronic media to make their views known”.

The look out circular (LOC) which led to Pillai being “offloaded” at the Delhi airport is claimed to have been based on “indications” received by Intelligence Bureau that the British parliamentary committee report would “use” her testimony “to rate India at a low level, leaving India open to a potential sanction regime”.

Among the foreign measures criticized by the affidavit is what is described as “an extra-territorial law” in the US, International Religious Freedom Act 1999. What remained unstated though was that this was the law under which Narendra Modi had been denied visa by the US following the Gujarat 2002 violence.