Freedom of expression, CHALLENGED

Posted by: Joydip & Suchandra Kundu on

Greenpeace ad draws Cong ire

An awareness initiative undertaken by Greenpeace India to commemorate Earth Day has attracted the wrath of Congress in Kolkata. 

With municipal elections around the corner, state Congress leaders allegedly forced bill board firms to pull down the hoardings that portray an apologetic Manmohan Singh in the year 2020, expressing regret for not acting to save India’s coast. 
“There is pressure from Congress leaders and workers to hoarding owner to take them down,” a Greenpeace spokesperson said. 
On Thursday, Earth Day, Greenpeace installed 12 billboards in Kolkata (Alipore, AJC Bose Road, Dhakuria Bridge, Prince Anwar Shah Road, Sai Complex, Salt Lake City Center, Salt Lake Karunamoyee, Salt Lake tank no 4, Santoshpur flyover, Howrah Station, VIP Road and Ganguly Bagan) with the underlying message that if leaders do not act now to protect India’s marine and coastal environment, they will regret their indecision in future. 
At least three of the 12 hoardings at Dhakuria, Prince Anwar Shah Road and Ganguli Bagan are under threat, Greenpeace activists claimed. 
Congress leader Manas Bhunia declined comment saying it was sensitive and he didn’t have all relevant facts. 
The hoardings featured digitally altered photographs of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2020 with the message: “I’m sorry, I could have saved India’s coast. I didn’t.” 
Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik and Union minister of environment and forest Jairam Ramesh were also portrayed in a similar fashion, with Ramesh’s message saying that he was not allowed to save India’s coast — a reference to pressure from industry and members of his own party to go slow on green protection measures. 
“These billboards are reminders to politicians across all parties that they need to act now to protect our coastal and marine ecosystems. Rather than suppressing free speech and demanding that they be removed, our political leaders need to tell the nation what they are doing to protect our coastal environment, and to ensure that mistakes such as the Dhamra port project in Orissa are never repeated,” said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace India. 
The organisation has been campaigning against the Tata-L&T owned Dhamra port in Orissa that is now nearing completion despite evidence of violation of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and other irregularities. The port which will be one of India’s largest, is located just a few kilometres from the Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha protected areas and has been a source of controversy ever since it was first proposed in the 1990s. 
Citing recent oil spills involving MV Malavika at Gopalpur port in Orissa, which has affected the Rushikulya turtle nesting beach, and a 2009 oil spill from MV Black Rose off Paradip, Fernandes said: “This is exactly why ports close to ecologically critical areas are a bad idea. Dhamra is going to cater to much larger vessels. A spill here could have devastating long-term consequences on both Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha.” 
An application has been filed by Bittu Sahgal and others in the Supreme Court of India asking that the project be halted on these grounds. The matter is currently being heard by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court and a decision is awaited. 
Greenpeace is demanding that there should be no new ports or expansion of existing ports within 25 km of any turtle mass nesting beach. 
According to Planning Commission documents, over 300 new ports are planned along the Indian coast, many in ecologically critical areas. Orissa itself plans to build over 10 new ports, many of which will be adjacent to turtle mass nesting areas.