Delhi: Police Disrupt We20 Summit at HKS Bhawan; Activists and Leaders Decry the Move
New Delhi: In an unprecedented move, Delhi Police on Saturday stopped the ongoing meeting of climate activists at Harkishan Singh Surjeet Bhawan in the national capital. The We20 summit, organised by the Working Group on International Finance Institutions, was aimed at discussing climate change, wealth inequality, poverty, and hunger and to provide an alternative platform to discuss people’s issues ahead of the G20 summit. The organisers said that the police forcibly entered the auditorium and asked the participants to vacate it.
Following the action, there is now uncertainty surrounding the seminars scheduled for the third day.
The management of the building rests with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Vimal Paliwal who manages the building told NewsClick that the Delhi Police officials claimed that the organisers had not sought permission for organising such a big meeting ahead of the G20 summit. “The auditorium where the session was scheduled to happen was named, but participants were asked to vacate the auditorium. We made temporary arrangements for the rest of the sessions. However, we are unsure if the sessions for the third day will be allowed to happen,” said Paliwal.
Jairam Ramesh, former Minister of Environment, Forests, and Rural Development, who addressed the session on ‘Climate Change, Biodiversity and Track records on Human Rights’, took to X (formerly Twitter) to express his outrage on the “dictatorial conduct of Delhi Police”. He tweeted, “It is extraordinary that Delhi Police is stopping people from attending the We20 meeting organised by activists representing We, the People, inside a building that belongs to the CPM. The meeting is perfectly peaceful. There are no street protests. I managed to enter at 10:30 am before Delhi Police started its operations but had difficulty exiting now. This is New India Democracy.”
Nikhil De, founding member, Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, who could not enter the building to address the session on Digital Personal Data Act, 2023, said that it is extremely sad that democratic space is made unavailable. He said, “We fought for democratic spaces like Jantar Mantar and got orders from the Supreme Court. This one is not even an open space. The discussions were meant to happen inside the building and if parties cannot have space, who will? Does the BJP not hold such discussions? Does the Congress not hold such meetings? The police are saying that requisite permission was not taken. I do not understand why people discussing important issues would need permission. What kind of a picture does the government wish to portray in front of the world ahead of the G20 summit? That they are not allowing any democratic discussions and dissent on issues that matter.”
Social activist Harsh Mander, who addressed the inaugural session, also condemned the action and tweeted, “Deeply distressed that as citizens’ initiative We20 is under way in HKS Surjeet Bhawan Delhi, Delhi Police has locked the gates, disallowing people from entering or exiting. Leading activists and independent thinkers silenced! Is this a democracy in which people can gather and reflect?”
The Working Group on International Finance Institutions, a collective of more than 70 organisations, which organised the event, said, “Taking an unbelievable step, Delhi Police barricaded the gates to Surjeet Bhawan not letting anyone in around 11 am. This was when Jairam Ramesh, Aneel Hegde, MP (RS), Medha Patkar (NBA), Vandana Shiva (Navdanya), Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Thomas Franco, Shaktiman Ghosh and others were analysing how the Modi administration projected to the global leaders of G20 that he is governing India in the best traditions of liberal democracy. Why then was he afraid of a few hundred activists gathering to examine his claims in Delhi that he had to direct the police to disrupt the proceedings!”
The organisers further added that the summit began with a rousing inaugural session attended by a host of political leaders, movement activists, and civil society organisations including Teesta Setalvad, Medha Patkar, Jayati Ghosh, Manoj Jha, Harsh Mander, Arun Kumar, Brinda Karat, Hannan Mollah, Rajeev Gowda among others. A total of nine workshops were planned in the summit to deliberate on key issues pertinent to the G20 agenda such as agriculture and food security, climate crisis and just energy transition, rising inequalities, labour and employment, alternative ideas of development, democracy and dissent and more.
The statement added, “What’s happening in Surjeet Bhawan is how the situation is across India. People are not allowed to participate in meaningful democracy to question and hold accountable the Modi administration. Why, even Parliament has been stepped aside and laws that fundamentally protect human rights, environment, biodiversity, privacy, etc. have been rendered meaningless. Anyone who dares to question the government, be it an activist, a trade unionist, academic, even a Minister or Deputy Chief Minister, is targeted with fabricated cases and hauled through the tortuous process of criminal trials, and even locked up under draconian laws. This is how things are in India today.”
In an official statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) criticised the Delhi Police for stopping the summit. It said that the action by the Delhi Police, to try and stop a seminar-cum-workshop on alternative policies with regard to the G20, was “totally uncalled for and an attempt to suppress dissenting opinions being voiced”. “The Surjeet Bhavan is owned by the CPI(M) where it conducts various activities, including Party education and seminars. Various civil society organisations, under the banner of We20, were conducting a meeting on the issues raised by the forthcoming G20 summit.”
It further read, “The police sought to stop the meeting stating that it had not got police permission. No police permission was ever required for such meetings or seminars in private buildings. The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) strongly protests against this arbitrary action of the Delhi Police. The Modi government must stop interfering, through the Delhi Police, in the democratic right of citizens to hold discussions and seminars in the capital.”
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