NEWS
23/07/2020 9:30 PM IST | Updated 23/07/2020 9:30 PM IST

First UAPA, Then IT Act: Cyber Cops Sent And Withdrew Notices Blocking Website Opposing EIA 2020

The website www.fridaysforfuture.in was blocked after environment minister Prakash Javadekar complained that his email was getting multiple emails mentioning EIA 2020.

MONEY SHARMA via Getty Images
Prakash Javadekar, Indian Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, gestures as he speaks with media representatives at his office in New Delhi. 

NEW DELHI—The Cyber Crime unit of the Delhi Police sent and withdrew two legal notices within ten days for blocking the website www.fridaysforfuture.in, the public face of the India chapter of the international movement led by acclaimed climate change activist Greta Thunberg, as the portal was allegedly used to send lakhs of emails to environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s email address in what the police claim was something similar to an ‘email bomb’ attack.

The emails, part of a mass online campaign by a cross section of people, were sent to oppose the controversial draft environment impact assessment notification 2020—the Narendra Modi government’s proposed new law for environment clearance. 

The first notice, in which the police listed sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), India’s draconian anti-terror law, was met by outrage when it went viral on social media.

“A notice dated 8th July 2020 is being circulated on social media. It is clarified that the notice in question was sent over email inadvertently with unrelated sections of law,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Anyesh Roy of the Cyber Crime Unit told HuffPost India on Thursday evening. 

“Immediately upon getting the knowledge that the inappropriate section has not been applied during its electronic transmission, the notice was withdrawn on 12th July 2020, because the relevant sections of law needed modification. Accordingly, modified notice under appropriate section of law (Section 66, IT Act) was sent to the concerned entities.”

DCP Roy explained that the first notice, alleging offences under section 18 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), was sent on 8 July following a complaint by the environment minister Javadekar and withdrawn on July 12 after they realised that there had been a ‘typographical error’. This error, he said, was application of the wrong section of law. 

Section 18 of the UAPA describes offences for conspiring , or attempting to conspire to commit a terrorist act and is supposed to be involved in cases where national security is threathened. DCP Roy said this section was meant to be applied for a different legal notice related to another unit of the Delhi Police. 

On July 12, the Cyber Crime unit of the Delhi Police sent another legal notice to block the website under section 66 of the Information Technology Act which details punishments for offences related to attack on a computer or computer network. 

Justifying his decision to send these notices, DCP Roy said that, “Certain official email accounts were being bombed with emails and so genuine emails were lost into the barrage of emails being sent.”

These email accounts, Roy claimed, included not just environment minister Javadekar’s email address but also other emails of officials from the environment ministry who were unrelated to the ongoing consultation process regarding the new law for environment clearance. 

After the second notice was issued, and by 16th July, the mass emails to Javadekar and others’ email accounts stopped and the second notice was also withdrawn. 

But Roy also warned that, “Suppose the issue again surfaces then in that case, we can again revert to a similar kind of action if required.”

Roy has shared the email withdrawing notice under the UAPA and IT Acts with HuffPost India. A copy is reproduced below. 

HuffPost India
Copy of the email shared with HuffPost India by DCP Anyesh Roy mentioning that the two notices have been withdrawn on 16 July 2020.

A spokesperson for Fridaysforfuture.in told this reporter that they have not received the second notice or communication about the withdrawal of the first notice. They have not been told by their internet service provider if they have received the second notice as well. They also said that they were unclear why the website remains blocked. HuffPost India could not independently ascertain the reasons for the website to continue to remain blocked. 

“We facilitated the draft EIA consultation process on our website through a campaign, which was invited by the government earlier in March 2020. This campaign ultimately led to our web censorship in July 2020. Despite being proactive, learning and looking for solutions, we are being censored and are not being included in the decision-making process that involves our future. We will not be the voiceless future of the country,” a written statement issued a volunteer for the website said. 

EIA 2020 AND ITS MANY CONTROVERSIES

The draft law for environment clearance has courted controversy ever since it was issued for public consultation in late March around the time the Modi government imposed the coronavirus lockdown. It picked up steam when documents accessed by HuffPost India under the RTI act revealed that despite receiving negative public feedback for releasing it during the lockdown, environment minister Prakash Javadekar overruled his officers’ suggestions and decided to give a lesser number of days for the public to give feedback about the specific provisions in the draft. 

The Delhi High Court subsequently extended the time limit for public consultation till August 11. It also directed that the draft law be translated into 22 languages mentioned in the eight schedule of the Indian constitution. The Karnataka High Court recently said that it could stay the draft law if adequate public consultation was not conducted for the proposed law. 

This order by the Karnataka High Court came in a week where HuffPost Indiarevealed that thousands of emails from another website www.letindiabreathe.in were on the radar of the environment ministry while discussing the demands for withdrawal of the draft notification, and weeks after this discussion, the Modi government controlled National Information Exchange of India (NIXI) blocked the website along with two others. They include www.FridaysForFuture.in and www.ThereisnoEarthB.com. The websites expressed fears of an ‘internet censorship’ in place and criticised the decision to unilaterally block them without giving an opportunity to explain themselves. 

On Thursday, in an official statement, the fridaysforfuture.in said, “Our website only provided content for a draft email and publicly available email addresses of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the minister in charge, and the address for the EIA consultation process. We provided content for those concerned, to draft and send their own objections. The multiple emails received by the honourable 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.”