Notice to youth climate group under UAPA ‘clerical error’: Delhi Police
The Delhi Police on Thursday said a July 8 notice sent to youth climate group Fridays For Future under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was a clerical error, saying they had withdrawn it and sent a fresh one under milder sections on July 12.
On July 8, police had issued a notice to Fridays For Future under Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which invokes Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, saying their website depicted contents “which are dangerous for the peace, tranquillity and sovereignty of India.”
The notice was issued following a complaint by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar over getting multiple emails on his email with the subject ‘EIA2020’ (draft environment impact assessment notification 2020).
Delhi Police on Thursday however said the July 8 notice issued under UAPA was a “clerical error”, which was withdrawn, and a fresh notice was sent to the group under Section 66 of the IT Act on July 12.
Delhi Police’s additional commissioner MS Randhawa said late on Thursday that the police on July 16 wrote to Endurance Domains Technology, clarifying that they had also withdrawn the July 12 notice under Section 66 of the IT Act because the “unlawful activity had ceased”.
“The notice under 66 IT Act (dated July 12) was also withdrawn on July 16 because such unlawful activities had ceased. The first notice (dated July 8) under the incorrect sections was a clerical error, so there was a fresh notice under 66 IT (on July 12) sent to the website. But this was also withdrawn on July 16 and the matter was settled,” Randhawa said.
The Internet Freedom Foundation, which is providing legal help to Fridays For Future (the India arm of a global climate movement started by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg in 2018), however, said they haven’t received any updated notice.
Section 79 (3)(b) of the IT Act refers to being notified by government or government agency of any data or communication link being used to commit an unlawful act.
Section 66 of the IT Act pertains to criminalising sending of offensive messages through a computer or other communication devices.
Deputy commissioner of police (cyber cell), Anyesh Roy also said the July 8 notice under sections of UAPA was a clerical error. The officer said police learnt of the error on July 12, withdrew the notice and sent a fresh notice under Section 66 of IT Act the following day.
“The notice was supposed to be sent under section 66 IT Act. It got mixed up with the other notice that was to be sent that day. We immediately withdrew the first notice and sent a fresh once under the correct section,” Roy said.
According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, Fridays For Future’s website had been disabled by its domain service provider on July 10. Upon enquiry, the service provider had informed them that the website had been blocked in accordance with a notice received from the Delhi Police under Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which also invokes the UAPA.
Fridays For Future shared a copy of the notice with the media, which read that after investigation on Javadekar’s complaints it was found that the website was sending emails to him. “Their unlawful activities on this website may disturb peace, sovereignty of India,” it said.
“The website depicts objectionable contents and unlawful activities or terrorist acts, which are dangerous for the peace, tranquillity and sovereignty of the India. The publication and transmission of such objectionable contents is a cognizable and punishable criminal offence under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” the notice added.
Punishment for conspiracy under the act is punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
“The Draft EIA Notification 2020 is in public domain. Any suggestion and public comment can be sent to the official mail provided for the purpose i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org till August 10, 2020 as mentioned in the notification. How is spamming the hon’ble minister’s personal mail with a lakh mails justified?” asked MOEFCC official spokesperson Gaurav Khare.
Javadekar did not respond to requests for a comment.
Fridays for Future, in a statement on Thursday, said their website fridaysforfuture.in was taken down on July 10 without any notice during the peak of their awareness campaign that intended to draw attention to the draft EIA Notification 2020 and make it easier for people to raise their concerns by writing an email to the MOEFCC and the environment minister.
On Wednesday, Fridays For Future also sent a representation to the Delhi Police seeking the restoration of its website. The representation clarified that the website merely provided a template to make it easier for citizens to participate in the public consultation on the Draft EIA notification and it did not send the emails received by Javadekar which were actually sent by concerned citizens from their personal email IDs.
“We are youth in India, inspired by the global Fridays for Future movement, who came together in 2019, after connecting digitally, to do good for the environment, our community and our country. We support our government’s on the commitments made to mitigate the effects of climate change…we raise awareness and engage in knowledge sharing online on related environmental issues, along with beach clean-ups, garbage drives, tree planting campaigns, community outreach, and sustainable lifestyle sessions, all without any financial support. Our website was a platform for those interested, to join us, and participate actively to protect the environment,” the group’s Thursday statement added.
HT had reported on July 16 that the websites of three environmental, youth and student movements have been blocked since June 29. These include fridaysforfuture.in; letindiabreathe.in and thereisnoearthb.com--Indian movements focused on various environmental issues including air pollution. It couldn’t be confirmed if the two others were also blocked following Delhi police notice.
“I think digital activism in today’s world for all issues specially climate justice is a very important avenue. Covid-19 has made it difficult for climate justice campaigners to do climate strikes and hence they provided a digital platform for people to reach out to public officials. It’s their constitutional duty to protect and work for the environment. Shocking that public officials are threatening them with charges of illegalities,” said Apar Gupta, lawyer representing Fridays For Future.
The draft EIA 2020 has been in the eye of a storm because it is expected to overhaul the process of environmental regulation of infrastructure projects and has contentious clauses on regularising projects that violate environmental norms and shortening the time period for public hearings.