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Environment India

Crushing dissent: Did GOI block websites of three environmental groups?

The three websites were running campaigns against the Centre’s controversial draft EIA 2020

Sabrangindia 16 Jul 2020

Image Courtesy:get-spnote.com

In separate statements, three environmental advocacy groups; Let India Breathe (LIB), FridaysForFuture (FFF) and There Is No Earth B, said that their websites had allegedly been blocked by the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI).

 

 

 

The three websites have been actively campaigning against the draft Environmental Assessment Impact (EIA) 2020 which has come under fire from environmental and civil rights groups for weakening environmental regulations by giving post facto clearance and doing away with important processes like public consultations.

Not only this, these websites are mostly run by youth activists who work around the clock to create awareness of any and all environmental violations, subversion of laws protecting indigenous people and their habitats and steps to foster positive climate change. Whether it is the violation taking place at the Aarey Forest in Mumbai, the Dehing Patkai Sanctuary in Assam or coal mining being opened up for private players, the websites have actively campaigned against rising ecological breaches that have only increased during the Covid-19 lockdown.

No reasons given

Let India Breathe in its statement said that it has served as a public resource of information and engagement to serve the constitutional goals for protection of wildlife and ecology and that their website domain www.letindiabreathe.in had been rendered inaccessible on June 29 for reasons not disclosed to them.

Fridays For Future, India which is the Indian arm of the global climate movement started by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg issued a statement saying that the movement has 60 chapters across India with around 10,000 volunteers and had recently initiated a feedback process for the draft EIA but access to the website, www.fridaysforfuture.in had been restricted since July 10 and they too have not been informed for the reasons regarding the same.

There Is No Earth B which addresses itself as an open community of environmentally passionate people intent and being backed by Gandhian philosophy of inspiring change in a statement said that it set to work translating and disseminating information about the controversial draft EIA 2020 so that people could understand how they would be affected by those changes. However, they too, on July 10 found that their website www.thereisnoearthb.com had been rendered inaccessible on the networks of some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) “as per the DoT (Department of Telecommunications) compliance”.

Violation of fundamental rights

Citing censorship of freedom of expression, many have opposed and questioned the blocking of these websites by NIXI.

 

 

On behalf of Let India Breathe, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) issued a notice for illegal domain seizure to NIXI saying, “We submit that such actions are violative of the existing ICANN and .IN registry guidelines as well as the fundamental rights of the collective who operate and the public participants who exercise their fundamental rights. It is specifically asserted that no specific notice, hearing or opportunity for defence has been provided till date. There is no information of any legal order. Such actions smack of arbitrariness, secrecy and are prima facie illegal especially given that contact details and email addresses for the website are prominently displayed on the homepage.”

 

The Hindustan Times reported Apar Gupta, Executive Director, IFF as saying, “We are seeing a spike in cases of internet censorship during the Covid-19 pandemic when the internet is one of the few mediums to engage and interact. Such blocking of websites is a violation of fundamental right to speech and expression and directive principle of the state policy on protection of environment.”  

Strategic digital lockdown

The Quint had earlier revealed how Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had cut short the time for public commentary on the draft EIA 2020 by overruling his own ministry’s senior officials. While the officials had suggested August 10, 2020 to be the last date for feedback, Javadekar had allegedly curtailed the feedback time by 40 days and fixed June 30 as the last date for receiving feedback. This too was an extension from the earlier closure date of May 22 and came only after environmentalists and Opposition leaders like former environment minister Jairam Ramesh criticized the government for keeping such a short deadline for the same.

However, the Delhi High Court had overruled this and extended the time for receiving suggestions till August 11, 2020 and questioned why the Centre had not come clear about overturning the original timeline set for August 10 and instead extending the feedback time for June 30.

The digital clampdown by the Centre through NIXI, seems an effort to block any criticism of the draft EIA 2020 and thereby keep people in the dark about its adverse effects on the ecology and lives of people in the country.

What government officials say

The NIXi which describes itself as a not-for-profit organization managed and operated on a neutral basis. However, it comes under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

With regards to the blocking of the three above mentioned websites, Shubham Saran, General Manager NIXI told Hindustan Times, “We don’t take any action on our part unless a law enforcement agency asks us to do so. I haven’t looked at the details of these cases but it should be because some law enforcement agency has directed us.”

Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State for Communications, which oversees the DoT, told The Print that while he was not aware of this particular incident, there was a committee handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs which received complaints across states from chief secretaries regarding objectionable content in websites.

However, one glance at the websites that were blocked will show that there was no objectionable content in them. All that the websites did was simplify hard to understand environmental jargon to help people better understand the severe violations that would take place if the draft EIA were to be enforced.

Hasty environmental clearances have already taken place all through the lockdown with the government giving clearances through video conferencing without conducting site visits or allowing people time to send evidence of such violations that would take place. Now, the strategic digital censorship of these websites only goes to show that the Centre is coming in to block dissent from all quarters.

Related:

Publish Draft EIA in 22 Indian Languages, Delhi HC to Modi Sarkar
Draft environmental impact notification (EIA) doom for natural resources, forests, withdraw it: NAPM

Crushing dissent: Did GOI block websites of three environmental groups?

The three websites were running campaigns against the Centre’s controversial draft EIA 2020

Image Courtesy:get-spnote.com

In separate statements, three environmental advocacy groups; Let India Breathe (LIB), FridaysForFuture (FFF) and There Is No Earth B, said that their websites had allegedly been blocked by the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI).

 

 

 

The three websites have been actively campaigning against the draft Environmental Assessment Impact (EIA) 2020 which has come under fire from environmental and civil rights groups for weakening environmental regulations by giving post facto clearance and doing away with important processes like public consultations.

Not only this, these websites are mostly run by youth activists who work around the clock to create awareness of any and all environmental violations, subversion of laws protecting indigenous people and their habitats and steps to foster positive climate change. Whether it is the violation taking place at the Aarey Forest in Mumbai, the Dehing Patkai Sanctuary in Assam or coal mining being opened up for private players, the websites have actively campaigned against rising ecological breaches that have only increased during the Covid-19 lockdown.

No reasons given

Let India Breathe in its statement said that it has served as a public resource of information and engagement to serve the constitutional goals for protection of wildlife and ecology and that their website domain www.letindiabreathe.in had been rendered inaccessible on June 29 for reasons not disclosed to them.

Fridays For Future, India which is the Indian arm of the global climate movement started by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg issued a statement saying that the movement has 60 chapters across India with around 10,000 volunteers and had recently initiated a feedback process for the draft EIA but access to the website, www.fridaysforfuture.in had been restricted since July 10 and they too have not been informed for the reasons regarding the same.

There Is No Earth B which addresses itself as an open community of environmentally passionate people intent and being backed by Gandhian philosophy of inspiring change in a statement said that it set to work translating and disseminating information about the controversial draft EIA 2020 so that people could understand how they would be affected by those changes. However, they too, on July 10 found that their website www.thereisnoearthb.com had been rendered inaccessible on the networks of some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) “as per the DoT (Department of Telecommunications) compliance”.

Violation of fundamental rights

Citing censorship of freedom of expression, many have opposed and questioned the blocking of these websites by NIXI.

 

 

On behalf of Let India Breathe, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) issued a notice for illegal domain seizure to NIXI saying, “We submit that such actions are violative of the existing ICANN and .IN registry guidelines as well as the fundamental rights of the collective who operate and the public participants who exercise their fundamental rights. It is specifically asserted that no specific notice, hearing or opportunity for defence has been provided till date. There is no information of any legal order. Such actions smack of arbitrariness, secrecy and are prima facie illegal especially given that contact details and email addresses for the website are prominently displayed on the homepage.”

 

The Hindustan Times reported Apar Gupta, Executive Director, IFF as saying, “We are seeing a spike in cases of internet censorship during the Covid-19 pandemic when the internet is one of the few mediums to engage and interact. Such blocking of websites is a violation of fundamental right to speech and expression and directive principle of the state policy on protection of environment.”  

Strategic digital lockdown

The Quint had earlier revealed how Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had cut short the time for public commentary on the draft EIA 2020 by overruling his own ministry’s senior officials. While the officials had suggested August 10, 2020 to be the last date for feedback, Javadekar had allegedly curtailed the feedback time by 40 days and fixed June 30 as the last date for receiving feedback. This too was an extension from the earlier closure date of May 22 and came only after environmentalists and Opposition leaders like former environment minister Jairam Ramesh criticized the government for keeping such a short deadline for the same.

However, the Delhi High Court had overruled this and extended the time for receiving suggestions till August 11, 2020 and questioned why the Centre had not come clear about overturning the original timeline set for August 10 and instead extending the feedback time for June 30.

The digital clampdown by the Centre through NIXI, seems an effort to block any criticism of the draft EIA 2020 and thereby keep people in the dark about its adverse effects on the ecology and lives of people in the country.

What government officials say

The NIXi which describes itself as a not-for-profit organization managed and operated on a neutral basis. However, it comes under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

With regards to the blocking of the three above mentioned websites, Shubham Saran, General Manager NIXI told Hindustan Times, “We don’t take any action on our part unless a law enforcement agency asks us to do so. I haven’t looked at the details of these cases but it should be because some law enforcement agency has directed us.”

Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State for Communications, which oversees the DoT, told The Print that while he was not aware of this particular incident, there was a committee handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs which received complaints across states from chief secretaries regarding objectionable content in websites.

However, one glance at the websites that were blocked will show that there was no objectionable content in them. All that the websites did was simplify hard to understand environmental jargon to help people better understand the severe violations that would take place if the draft EIA were to be enforced.

Hasty environmental clearances have already taken place all through the lockdown with the government giving clearances through video conferencing without conducting site visits or allowing people time to send evidence of such violations that would take place. Now, the strategic digital censorship of these websites only goes to show that the Centre is coming in to block dissent from all quarters.

Related:

Publish Draft EIA in 22 Indian Languages, Delhi HC to Modi Sarkar
Draft environmental impact notification (EIA) doom for natural resources, forests, withdraw it: NAPM

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