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Greenpeace India campaigner banned from travelling overseas

Greenpeace India campaigner

Priya Pillai, Greenpeace India campaigner at a public meeting at Mahan in Madhya Pradesh. Courtesy of: Vivek M. / Greenpeace

A Greenpeace campaigner has been stopped from leaving India in what the organisation has slammed as another attempt for the country’s government “to muzzle” the organisation.

The staff member, Priya Pillai, an Indian national and senior campaigner at Greenpeace, was prevented from boarding a flight from New Delhi to London on Sunday, where she was scheduled to talk to members of the UK parliament about the impact of a coal mine on a village in central India.

Immigration officials gave no reason for the restrictions and stamped Pillai’s passport “offload”, despite her having a valid business visa to visit London.

She was also informed by airport authorities that she is now banned from leaving India. Media reports in the country say the campaigner had been placed on a government ‘lookout’ circular – generally issued against criminals barred from the leaving the country because they might abscond – even though she has no criminal convictions against her.

Pillai said:

It is bizarre that the government chooses to inform the media about an alleged lookout circular against me which I have no knowledge of. I have been dedicatedly working for the rights of the most marginalised communities in the country and protecting the environment. Does this lead to issuing of a circular that is meant for offenders?

Pillai had been asked to address the UK’s Indo-British All Party Parliamentary group on the people-powered movements with the local communities in Mahan, Madhya Predesh, where she had campaigned against a coal mine which threatens thousands of villages living around the forested area.

The Mahan coal mine plan – a joint project between London-listed Essar Energy and Hindalco Industries Ltd – would uproot the lives and livelihoods of the communities and mean large parts of the centuries-old forest would be lost.

The project was given the green light by the country’s environment minister last February.

Pillai says she has written a letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs following Sunday’s incident, while Greenpeace India have also written to the Ministry of Home and External Affairs and the Airport Authority calling for an explanation.

This is the second time a Greenpeace employee has been denied the go-ahead by the Indian airport authorities in spite of having a valid visa.

Last September, campaigner Ben Hargreaves – a UK national – was refused entry to the country.

The Narendra Modi administration has also cracked down on Greenpeace India coal campaigns, closing off foreign funding transfers to the charity.

A court later ordered the government to lift the block.

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