The externment proceedings initiated against Tabrez Ali Sayed, the well known youth activist of the Save Aarey movement, has turned into a tool of censorship, fear members of the movement. Adding to the atmosphere of intimidation, Aarey police have registered First Information Reports (FIRs) and begun investigations against other activists.

Save Aarey forest activist Tabrez Ali Sayed

In November last year, Powai police initiated externment proceedings against Tabrez Ali in two cases lodged against him over a slum demolition and three in connection with the protests at Aarey forest over the controversial construction of the Metro carshed, which will permanently slice up the forest, fell over 2000 trees and ultimately, dishouse over 700 families of Adivasis. A series of hearings have been held before Dr Maheshwar Reddy, Deputy Commissioner of Police Zone 10. The decision on the notice is expected today.

Over 250 citizens have sent a letter to the Mumbai Police Commissioner, Vivek Phansalkar, to urge him to stop the externment proceedings against Tabrez Ali and the harassment of citizens, students, activists and nature lovers.. In their letter, they said “such defenders of human and environmental rights should be applauded, not criminalized and punished (scroll below for full letter).

Externment proceedings, under Sec 56(1)(a) of the Maharashtra Police Act, 1951 (which empowers the police to initiate proceedings whereby a district or sub-divisional magistrate can order the ‘removal of persons about to commit offence’ if the movements or acts of any person are causing or calculated to cause alarm, danger or harm to person or property) are usually initiated against anti-social elements or those with a criminal record.

These proceedings, popularly known as ‘tadipar’, are increasingly being used against students, social activists and environmental activists who have been speaking out against harmful infrastructure projects. Apart from the attempt to stigmatise them in their neighbourhood, the move to ‘remove’ them physically from sites of protest also cuts them off from disseminating information about illegal activities rampant in controversial project areas.

Activists on the ground, like Tabrez Ali, are often the eyes and ears of a movement and use social media effectively to highlight wrongdoings in the area. Even though he has the order on the externment hanging over his head, Tabrez tweeted about illegal construction work a few metres from the office of the CEO of Aarey Colony :

For months now, Aarey activists have been holding an uninterrupted Sunday protest at the Aarey picnic point. While the numbers of protestors have ebbed and flowed, a dedicated band have continued to keep up with their vigil.

Letter by concerned citizens to Mumbai Police Commissioner Vivek Phansalkar:
We, the undersigned citizens of Mumbai are deeply concerned about the rising incidents of harassment of activists and social workers associated with several rights-based movements by the police.
Several citizen and environmental activists voicing to save Aarey Forest have been summoned by the Aarey Police Station in the recent past. These summons are uncalled for, particularly because the people receiving them are nature-loving citizens who have always put forth their demands well under their constitutional rights and in the most peaceful way.

Amidst this collective harassment, we also wish to highlight the particular case of Tabrez Ali Sayed. He is a grassroots social and environmental activist who is well known for his welfare and social work. Over the years, he is known to have worked extensively for the most vulnerable sections of our society.

Tabrez is a law-abiding citizen who has been very vocal about saving Aarey Forest. In addition, he is dedicated to the cause of betterment of the youth, students and people and has always been at the forefront of raising his voice against unlawful activities.

Recently, the Mumbai Police issued an externment notice u/s 56 (1) (a) to Tabrez. We believe that this is wrong, unfair and unjust and should be immediately revoked. It is an intimidating act against courageous persons who stand up to protect the environment or fight for any social cause. We fear that this approach of law enforcement agencies is fast becoming a weapon of harassment to keep an unnecessary and unsolicited check on activists.

The notice of externment against Tabrez criminalizes his selfless work. Tabrez has consistently raised his voice against the felling of trees and illegal encroachments on Aarey forest land.

The freedom to pose questions to the authorities is conferred upon all the citizens by our constitution. Moreover, Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution says that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures. The right to protest is under article 19(1)(a), which gives all the citizens right to freedom of speech and expression, Article 19(1)(b) which gives all citizens the right to assemble peacefully without weapons and Article 19(1)(c) which gives all citizens the right to form associations or unions.

During the pandemic, he has extensively worked towards providing food and medical assistance to those in need. Such a person cannot be termed as a criminal or an anti-social element.

In an individualistic society, such defenders of human and environmental rights should be applauded, not criminalized and punished.

We urge you to immediately take steps to stop the harassment of citizens, students, activists and nature lovers.

Thanks & Regards,
Concerned Citizens

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