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Issue No.: 573 | March 2015

Freedom versus Licence

Ashok Karnik
The case of Priya Pillai, Greenpeace activist, is intriguing;....The Government has already red-flagged financial aid being funnelled by Greenpeace

The case of Priya Pillai, Greenpeace activist, is intriguing; she was stopped from travelling abroad (January 2015) because of the possibility that she would address foreign institutions to propagate against the Government’s forest mining policy. The Government’s preventive action deserves analysis as the action exposes various layers of convoluted logic. It would be good to know the issues involved. It is obviously a check on the freedom of speech of an Indian citizen. To what extent the check can be justified as being in the interest of national security, sovereignty or even Government policies? An Indian citizen has the right to criticize his Government’s policies. The problem arises when such criticism is initiated by an agency that is backed by a foreign entity. To what extent such activity is considered acceptable or is to be tolerated? Do we allow a foreign agency to guide a movement against India’s policies? There is only a thin line between agitating on your own and seeking support from like-minded foreign organizations for your cause. International cooperation for a common cause is the problem.

The Government has already red-flagged financial aid being funnelled by Greenpeace after its role in the anti-nuclear plant agitation in Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu). In Priya’s case, the issue got complicated; she did not receive direct financial aid but got indirect support for her journey. What type of foreign assistance for anti-government agitations is to be condoned? Air tickets, hotel bills, daily stipends? The High Court observed that prima facie the action against Priya was "inappropriate”. The Government has argued that it was necessary to stop direct or indirect foreign interference in India’s policy making. Unfortunately, at present, foreign intelligence agencies do find gullible NGOs in India who can be used to launch agitations, wittingly or unwittingly, against Government’s policies. The NGOs are mostly genuinely convinced about their stance and are not conscious tools of foreign agencies; the latter tend to use them as tools which are impermissible. The remedy lies in the precaution that those who want to fight Government’s policies should not take any kind of assistance from foreign agencies; that would protect their integrity and allow them to function as they want; the temptation to secure foreign assistance is their Achilles’ heel. 
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