Fridays for Future (FFF) India, a volunteer driven and non-funded movement for climate action and justice, recently found their website blocked. FFF India wasn’t alone in this as two other environment collectives, Let India Breathe and There is no Earth B, also found their websites inaccessible. However, with FFF India, the situation escalated further. On 12 July, the group received a notice stating they had been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). This was eventually withdrawn citing a “clerical error" by the Delhi police. Later, a notice was sent under the IT Act, which too was ultimately withdrawn.
All three groups have been raising awareness online in opposition to the new draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, which has come under fire from environmentalists and civil society for its proposed changes in rules. Among other things projects operating in violation of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA), can now apply for post-facto clearance. The new draft also exempts a long list of projects as outside the purview of the EIA, including any project the government deems to label as "strategic". As has been reported by Mint, the draft EIA notification and its public consultation process has been dogged with controversy.
“Though FFF India was inspired by the movement initiated by Greta Thunberg, we are our own movement. We have various chapters and over 10,000 volunteers across the country," says Yuvan Aves, a volunteer from Chennai and part of the national media response team. FFF India had provided a framework for the general public to email its contentions with the draft EIA to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC). This is allowed by the consultation process—the deadline is 11August—and FFF India’s activism generated high engagement. Over a thousand mails were sent to the environment ministry. Soon after, FFF India’s website was blocked.
“The present house of Parliament recognized that fundamental duties are a very important component of how all of us as active citizens, especially young people, need to participate in the larger sphere and contribute towards national development," said lawyer Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation in a live stream with FFF India on 24 July. “And one of the core elements of even the Fundamental Duties is taking care of the ecology and the climate," he added.
FFF India’s website is now up and running again. Mint spoke to Aves about what this entire episode has meant for their activism and what they expect from the government as young climate activists. Edited excerpts.
What are the issues with the draft EIA notification 2020?
The EIA is being described as a "compilation of violations" by several communities, organizations, experts, judiciaries, and state governments. We concur with this view based on various provisions it has which is anti-people and anti-environment. The EIA process draws its power from Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) which says "Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Central governments shall have the power to take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment…"
The new EIA does nothing to protect the environment. It exposes the environment to industrial exploitation and hence it is in contravention to the spirit of the EPA. Its consequences if allowed to pass will be unimaginable in the present context of the climate crisis.
What were the actions taken by FFF India regarding the draft EIA notification?
As per due process, the draft EIA was supposed to be released in all Indian languages and put on all state domains. This hasn't happened. We hence spread awareness through our website and social media about what the EIA is and what the issues are with the new notification. The government, as per legal process, asked for public review (which has been extended twice) and we facilitated this by providing a sample email body which people could read, understand and send their own. This garnered a lot of participation.
How did the UAPA charge and the IT Act notice impact you? How are your volunteers responding to these actions?
Our website was first blocked, given a notice under Sec 18 of UAPA. It is an anti-terrorism law and Sec 18 deals with conspiracy, spread of religious hatred, etc. Most of our volunteers are between ages 12 to 25. It was alarming to see us booked under this Act, though it was later withdrawn, saying it was a typographical error by the Delhi Police.
After this we were booked under Sec 66 of the IT Act, for "Sending too many emails" to the environment minister Prakash Javadekar as per DCP Anvesh Roy. This comes under Sec 66a which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015, and is no longer a law. This too was later withdrawn. Both charges did not have legal standing as per our legal team. I want to add that the public sending grievances to public servants they have elected is a constitutional right, not a conspiracy.
What will be FFF India’s next steps regarding the draft EIA notification?
FFF India will continue to create public awareness and encourage public participation around the EIA and other environmental issues. Interestingly, the government's move of web censorship has brought much more attention to the EIA. Why is the government going out of the way to curb dissent? Why is it unaccepting and incapable of hearing the voice of the public? Will it go till the extent of calling public participation a terrorist act? If every citizen wrote to the ministry about their views on the EIA, it must have the capacity to read and review it, as it’s a fundamental right. Youth, who are stakeholders in the country which is being left behind for them, must be involved too, though any of this is hardly happening.