On account of a complaint by Minister of Environment Prakash Javadekar for receiving “multiple emails” with subjects similar to ‘EIA2020’, the website of the volunteer network ‘Fridays for Future (FFF)’ was taken down on July 10 without any prior notice.
The volunteers’ collective that focuses mainly on issues related to climate change and environment traces its roots to the international movement launched by renowned Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and other young activists. On June 4, it had launched a campaign to draw attention to the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, which has been criticised for favouring businesses and harming the environment and health of the people in the process. The short timeline for the consultation process for the Draft EIA had also drawn flak from activists and the Delhi High Court had to intervene to extend the deadline for submission of comments on the draft.
To facilitate the process of consultation under its campaign, the FFF website had uploaded a draft mail along with the email addresses of Javadekar, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the dedicated email address for the Draft EIA Notification consultation process. These email addresses were already available in the public domain. A user could use the template, alter and edit it to convey their views on the controversial draft notification.
A statement by the FFF has clarified, “We provided content for those concerned, to draft and send their own objections. The multiple emails received by the honorable Minister only stress the sense of alarm amongst youth, environmentalists, and concerned citizens across the country due to the potential dilution of the EIA norms via the Draft Notification.”
However, after launching an “investigation” following Javadekar’s complaint, the special cell of the Cyber Crime Unit, Delhi claimed that the FFF website was sending emails to the minister. It added, “Their unlawful activities on this website may disturb peace, sovereignty of India.”
So, while asking the domain service provider of the website to block fridaysforfuture.in, the police have gone to the extent of saying: “The above website depicts objectionable contents and unlawful activities or terrorist act, which are dangerous for the peace, tranquillity and sovereignty of the India (sic). The
publication and transmission of such objectionable contents is a cognizable and punishable criminal offence under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.”
Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an advocacy group based in Delhi, which is providing legal aid to FFF, has said that on 22 July, the collective sent a representation to the Delhi Police seeking restoration of its website and highlighted several inaccuracies in the notice issued by the Delhi Police. It was conveyed to the police that the emails received by Javadekar were actually sent by concerned citizens from their personal email IDs voluntarily using only the template made available by the FFF. “FFF does not exercise any control over the content or number of emails which are finally received by public officials,” said the IFF website.
A statement by the FFF has further said, “Fridays for Future India’s campaign did not level threats and raised no outrageous demands, but objectively raised concern regarding India’s environment and climate justice. The blocking of the website is shocking and appalling. It is upsetting and disappointing that the government is digitally censoring the movement and accusing the youth of India of doing completely absurd things.”
“It is indicative of the sore lack of accountability in governance that the world’s largest representative democracy deems the simple facilitation of citizen engagement with representatives as an objectionable activity. Fridays for Future India calls upon the government to unblock the website and let the youth of India continue to fight for climate justice for the sake of democracy, their well being, and their future,” it added.
At the time of filing this report, the FFF website continued to be disabled.
*Update: According to a FirstPost report, Anyesh Roy, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Cyber Crime Unit, Delhi Police, has said that the notice was “inadvertent” and has been withdrawn. He was quoted as saying, “Notice was issued under a section that was not appropriate to the matter. And it was immediately withdrawn. The moment the issue got resolved, the notice was also withdrawn. Presently, if the website is not running, it is not because of us.”