Can the police book environmental activists under UAPA?
It cannot, and hence the notice sent out to the company hosting an advocacy website that shot off a bunch of petitions to the environment minister against the controversial Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2020, threatening action under the law while ordering it to block access to the website has been withdrawn and a fresh one mentioning the appropriate section of the IT Act issued in its place.
The company has complied with said request. The action followed an email sent by the minister to Delhi Police.
The letter from the police said the mails to the minister had purportedly disturbed the “peace and sovereignty” of India, and hence it was pondering invoking of the UAPA.
The police’s astonishing “peace and sovereignty” spiel may have had its roots in redflagged portions of the new draft. These aim to limit public engagement and expand the ambit of the government’s discretionary power in clearing a project.
According to the draft, it is the government that decides on the “strategic” tag of a project and no information on “such projects shall be placed in the public domain”.
Additionally, the new draft exempts a long list of projects from public consultation. For example, linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas will not require any public hearing.
That would cover many of the biodiverse regions of the Himalayas in the Northeast. Widening of national highways are exempt from prior clearance.
Also, for “ease of doing business”, projects operating in violation of the Environment Act will now be able to apply for post facto clearance.
What is most astounding is that it is the developers themselves or a government authority who are the only ones permitted to bring to the ministry's notice violations of the Environment Act. The public is no longer allowed to fulfil this role.
This is the most pernicious clause in the draft. It is perfectly in line with the Narendra Modi government’s new modus operandi of holding 10-minute video-conferences to clear scores of environment-destroying projects post the pandemic lockdown.
No wonder the environmentalists are up in arms against the new notification.
The UAPA “typo”, however, was a Freudian slip on the part of the police that betrays the thinking of their political masters. According to them, then, the climate warrior is the new terrorist....