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EIA: Delhi Police’s Secret Probe Against Green Portals Still On, RTI Reply Shows

Contrary to public perception, web portals which were blocked during the campaign against the EIA 2020 on the direction of entities linked to the Narendra Modi government, continue to be under police lens.
The Delhi Police’s Cyber Crime Cell is continuing to investigate two web portals: www.letindiabreathe.in and www.fridaysforfuture.in, according to its response to an RTI application filed by HuffPost India.
The India Today Group via Getty Images
The Delhi Police’s Cyber Crime Cell is continuing to investigate two web portals: www.letindiabreathe.in and www.fridaysforfuture.in, according to its response to an RTI application filed by HuffPost India.

NEW DELHI—The Delhi Police’s Cyber Crime Cell is continuing to investigate two web portals — www.letindiabreathe.in and www.fridaysforfuture.in, the India chapter of climate activist Greta Thunberg’s global movement—despite senior police officials having publicly stated that they withdrew controversial legal notices against the websites and allowed them to be unblocked, according to a response to a Right To Information (RTI) application filed by HuffPost India.

The Cyber Crime Cell officials, despite HuffPost India’s repeated requests, also refused to disclose the reasons for this continuing investigation into the websites that were blocked amidst an online campaign against India’s proposed new green law, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020. Critics say EIA 2020 undercuts environmental protections and favours polluting businesses. HuffPost India has reported about how the controversial proposed law was drafted here.

The Delhi Police’s admission of an ongoing investigation, yet their refusal to disclose the reasons for doing so, is significant as it indicates the existence of an opaque and secretive inquiry into the green groups and also contradicts the public impression created by the press statement of Cyber Crime Cell Deputy Commissioner of Police Anyesh Roy and other senior officials that the notices were withdrawn, which led many to believe that the issue should be considered as resolved.

The controversy around these two websites began when it emerged that the police had sought to use an anti-terror legislation to block www.fridaysforfuture.in for running mass-mailing campaigns against EIA 2020. The campaign, the Cyber Crime Cell said, resulted in hundreds of thousands of emails clogging the inbox of union environment minister Prakash Javadekar and senior officials at the environment ministry.

The police subsequently backtracked, and sent a fresh notice under the IT act against the website to its Internet Service Provider. A separate notice had been sent to the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), a public sector firm controlled by the Narendra Modi government, to block www.letindiabreathe.in. The websites were subsequently unblocked in mid-July, the police said, once the emails to Javadekar stopped.

“The Delhi Police’s admission of an ongoing investigation, yet their refusal to disclose the reasons for doing so, is significant as it indicates the existence of an opaque and secretive inquiry into the green groups.”

On 16 July, this reporter filed an RTI request with the Cyber Crime Cell asking three questions:

1) The specific section of law and reasons cited by the Cyber Crime Cell for directing the NIXI to block any or all of the three websites www.letindiabreathe.in, www.FridaysforFuture.in and www.ThereisnoEarthB.com.

2) A copy of the communication sent by the Cyber Crime Cell to the NIXI to block any or all of the previously mentioned three websites, and

3) The date on which the Cyber Crime Cell sent the communication directing the NIXI to block any or all of the three websites.

To this, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Aditya Gautam of Cyber Crime Cell replied thus, “The requisite information is related to a matter that is pending enquiry. The disclosure of the same is exempted u/s 8(1)(h) of RTI Act, 2005.” (u/s stands for “under section”)

Response received by HuffPost India from the Cyber Crime Cell Assistant Commissioner Of Police Aditya Gautam. "The requisite information is related to a matter that is pending enquiry...," it says.
Akshay Deshmane/HuffPost India
Response received by HuffPost India from the Cyber Crime Cell Assistant Commissioner Of Police Aditya Gautam. "The requisite information is related to a matter that is pending enquiry...," it says.

Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI law that ACP Gautam cited in his reply allows any public authority to refuse information to an applicant if doing so “would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders”.

Several judgments of the Delhi High Court have explained how investigating authorities can seek exemptions under this section.

For instance, in the matter of Union of India vs. Sh. O. P. Nahar, in its judgment dated 22/04/2015, this is what the Delhi HC stated about 8(1)(h), “A careful reading of the provision would show that the holder of the information can only withhold the information if, it is able to demonstrate that the information would “impede” the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of the offenders.”

Given that ACP Gautam’s response to HuffPost India’s RTI application does not explain how the process of investigation would be impeded by sharing the requested information, it is evident that it fails to justify the decision to prohibit disclosure.

DCP Anyesh Roy of the Cyber Crime Cell did not respond to queries about the RTI response and ACP Gautam could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, the young activists running these websites have not received any official communication about the ongoing enquiry and they say that they are completely in the dark about it.

“We didn’t receive any notice in the first place. Even our domain registrar told us they don’t have anything to send to us,” said Yash Marwah, founder member of environment collective Let India Breathe.

“Nor have they sent us something new now, ever since the site is working. They asked us to check spam mail and we didn’t have it there too. To which they said then there’s nothing else they have to share,” he added.

Marwah echoed the concerns raised by Advocate Apar Gupta, his counsel and Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, in a legal notice to Sanjay Goel, the Chief Executive Officer of NIXI, after the website block was detected for the first time.

“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,” Gupta’s legal notice dated July 10 said.

This lack of transparency seems to have continued into the current instance as well. But that is not the only problem with the RTI response.

How the Cyber Crime Cell’s RTI Response Is Contrary To Public Perception

The Cyber Crime Cell’s response to the RTI appears to be contrary to the public impression created as a consequence of the Delhi Police’s press statements related to the unblocking of the websites.

As HuffPost India reported here, DCP Roy said the Cyber Crime Cell withdrew two notices that it had sent to the Internet Service Provider directing it to block www.fridaysforfuture.in. The website was back online soon after the Cell sent an official communication for this on 16 July.

Similarly, an official of the NIXI, speaking with this reporter recently on the condition of anonymity, said the website www.letmebreathe.in had also been unblocked by his firm after the Cyber Crime Cell sent an official communication directing it to do so on 17 July. According to this official, the communication stated that the notice directing the domain hold on the website had been withdrawn and his office ensured the website was up “within ten minutes” of having received the communication in the first half of 17 July. This could not be independently corroborated however.

DCP Roy of the Cyber Crime Cell told HuffPost India previously that the websites were allowed to be back online after mass emails had stopped flooding the inboxes of environment minister Prakash Javadekar and others in the green ministry.

And yet, the Cyber cops say they are still investigating the two web portails. The simple question is: why?

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This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost India, which closed in 2020. Some features are no longer enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this article, please contact indiasupport@huffpost.com.