An attempt to suppress dissent has tainted India's democratic credentials. And this time, the Modi government cannot blame the BJP fringe elements. Fortunately, the Delhi High Court on Thursday set aside the lookout notice issued against Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai on the basis of which she was prevented from travelling to the UK. On January 11 Pillai’s baggage was deplaned when she was on her way to meet British parliamentarians. Her meeting with the UK lawmakers was to draw their attention to the alleged violations of tribals' human rights in the proposed Mahan coal field in Madhya Pradesh, which, it is feared, would uproot local communities. The London-listed Essar Energy too is involved in the project.
In a democracy, the ruling party was reminded by the court, amongst the varied freedoms conferred on a citizen is the right to free speech and expression. Which means an individual's voice against government policies, even related to development, can't be muzzled. Governments have to face criticism and opposition. The government's efforts to silence Pillai were as such turned futile by technologies available. She did participate in the planned meeting to express her views through Skype. It only earned the Union government the dubious distinction of being oppressive.
Development policies have been challenged in the past too. And governments of different shades have faced music in their efforts to balance development with needs of the tribal people and the displaced. The height of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam was reduced after a fierce public agitation spearheaded by Arundhati Roy and Medha Patkar. The Singur agitation forced Tata Motors to move out of West Bengal. The same government is facing much opposition against the land acquisition Bill and it is trying to accommodate people's perspective. While Pillai's case was high profile and garnered good legal support, many more voices from different walks of life are throttled every day. These voices need to be restored. Democracy is weakened by silencing dissent; only multiple views strengthen it.
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