Two months after Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was barred from boarding a plane to the UK, the Delhi high court on Thursday declared as “illegal” the Centre’s decision to issue a look out circular (LOC) against her and subsequently detaining her at the airport.
The HC quashed the LOC issued by Intelligence Bureau (IB) and asked the government to remove her name from the ‘database’ containing names of individuals barred from leaving the country.
Pillai was on January 11 turned away at immigration counter of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport while trying to catch a flight to London to make a presentation before British MPs on alleged human rights violation at a proposed coal-mining project in Mahan area of Madhya Pradesh.
The government had categorised Pillai as an “anti-national element” as her intended activity had the potentiality of degrading the image of India in the eyes of foreign nations.
Rejecting this submission, justice Rajiv Shakdher said merely having a different opinion on development policies of the government does not tantamount to being ‘anti-national’.
“The state may not accept the views of the civil right activists, but that by itself, cannot be a good enough reason to do away with dissent… Criticism, by an individual, may not be palatable, even so, it cannot be muzzled,” he remarked.
“The executive may or may not agree with” the views and activities of Pillai but that by itself, cannot be a reason to prevent her from exercising her fundamental right to travel abroad,” justice Shakdher added.
It also directed Bureau of Immigration to expunge the endorsements “off-load” made on the 37-year-old’s passport.
The court, however, declined to order inquiry against officials involved in her offloading.
“Union home ministry is examining the judgment of the high court and a decision on challenging it in the Supreme Court will be taken only after its careful scrutiny,” said a Union home ministry official requesting anonymity.