The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea seeking directions to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation to stop collecting funds from the public for its Cauvery Calling project.
A Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum also highlighted how Isha Outreach has undertaken planting of trees and praised its efforts.
“In this case, the Supreme Court has dealt with the necessity of the forest and disaster which is taking place on account of the loss of forest cover. Therefore, the only remedy available to save mankind and planet earth is afforestation. Efforts of Respondent 3 certainly require appreciation. Therefore, we must place on record appreciation for the steps taken by respondent 3, Isha Outreach in the matter of afforestation. Petition deserves to be dismissed.”
The Cauvery Calling project involves steps to revitalize rivers which has dried up. The petition alleged that as part of the project, Isha Foundation was planting saplings on government land and collecting money for the same from the public.
The plea by advocate AV Amarnathan had raised the issue of the government allowing its land to be used by a private organisation for planting saplings, without studying the pros and cons of the project.
The petitioner argued that the “collection of money from public is disturbing” as Isha Foundation is expected to collect a massive ₹10,626 crore as donation.
The Court had in October 2020 decided to treat the case as a suo motu petition, after removing the petitioner.
This was after the petitioner sent a legal notice to the Discovery Channel asking them not to air a programme on the project.
The Court in its judgment today opined that planting trees in a barren land is not a crime, though the respondents were not resorting to the same.
“Planting trees on barren land is not a crime though respondent 3 (Isha Outreach) is not planting a single tree on the government land. In case such a view is taken that planting tree on a govt land is prohibited , it will create havoc and large number of plantations which are going on in the country over government land by NGOs, without any motive will come to a standstill.”
The Court further termed the petition as a “frivolous” one, which did not warrant the interference of the Court.
“Hence, the question of interference by this Court in a noble project like Cauvery Calling doesn’t arise.”
Rally For Rivers: Cauvery Calling Project
‘Rally for Rivers’ calls for a 1 km’s buffer of trees alongside all the rivers. This will include fruit trees on farm lands and forests on government land. The campaign calls this the simplest way to save rivers as trees lead to greater rainfall, stop soil erosion and also replenish groundwater which in turn feeds the rivers.
The campaign has been criticised for its oversimplified approach and for collecting crores of a social media blitzkrieg.
A tree plantation has long been used both as a panacea and as an excuse for pollution and other harmful activities. From compensatory afforestation that legitimises the axing of fully grown forests for industries to international scams like carbon credits – all thrive on the idea that the saplings can match the diverse functions of a fully grown tree or offset the use of fossil fuels.
Back to back dams, sand mining, pollution, deforestation, and plans to interlink rivers and build waterways on them are the real threats. The campaign’s website, and the campaign, conveniently skips all these issues.
In September 2019, the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India has said that while planting trees was welcome, appropriate ones should be planted and only where they were needed. “It is a process that is best done consultatively, based on local needs, and sensitive to local ecological dynamics,” it had said.
The group had also raised questions about Isha Outreach Foundation’s credibility in conforming with laws protecting human rights and environment.
“No less an authority than the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, a constitutional body, has reported that the foundation has built its headquarters into an elephant corridor and on land belonging to Adivasis,” the group had said.
Subsequently a Public interest litigation was filed in the Karnataka High Court seeking directions to Isha Foundation, headed by Jaggi Vasudev, not to collect any funds from the public for the ‘Cauvery calling project’, in the interest of equity and justice.
The advocate, A.V. Amarnathan, states that the campaign calls for the planting of trees across the Cauvery river from Talacauvery to Tiruvarur. It aims to raise 253 crore plants for which it is collecting Rs 42 per tree, which sums up to Rs 10,626 crore.
The PIL says that “Foundation claims that it has conducted studies regarding the Cauvery Basin. But it ought to have submitted the said report to the State. And the state after deliberating the said studies should have given approval. But no such process is carried out. The petitioner submits that no private organization can be permitted to carry out any work, on the Government land, without there being a proper approval from the state.”