Delhi Police “inadvertently” talks of UAPA against environmental activists, withdraws notice later
The Delhi Police, in a notice issued to an internet service provider in relation to a website operated by environmental activists, had threatened the imposition of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, for “depicting objectionable contents and unlawful activities or terrorist act, which are dangerous for the peace, tranquillity and sovereignty of India”. The site exhorted visitors to write to the Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, urging a review of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Rules 2020 which has come under heavy criticism—even former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh is among its critics—for diluting the existing norms. Javadekar had lodged a complaint, saying his email account had been flooded with mails with the subject “EIA 2020”—something that can be construed as spamming, though the draft EIA 2020 had been put up for expert and public consultation by the government. The Delhi Police later clarified that the UAPA part was “inadvertently” included and withdrew the notice.
While the police version may very well be true—in which case, it would be a reflection of the general level of awareness amongst police personnel on the applicability of certain laws—there have been many instances where the police has slapped charges that would not seem commensurate to the offence. Indeed, while the general public can only speculate on what drives such misguided enthusiasm on the part of the police, disagreeing with the government of the day or dissent can’t be treated as “unlawful activity or terrorist acts” that threaten the sovereignty of the nation, especially when some of the legal provisions used to clamp down means that those facing charges may not even get bail—bail, save for in exceptional circumstances, is seen as the natural course of developed-country criminal systems. There are enough examples of such laws being used to indefinitely imprison people seen to be critical of those in power. The police and the government—the Centre and the states—need to carefully consider what such actions mean for democracy.