By unveiling a 112-feet-tall Shiva idol on Friday, constructed by flouting environmental laws and building regulations, at Isha Foundation, a spiritual organisation founded by yoga guru, Jaggi Vasudev in Coimbatore, is Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsing violations of environmental laws in our country?
Isha Foundation, situated in the foothills of Velliangirihills in the Western Ghats famous for its elephant corridor, Coimbatore, has been a controversies’ child since its inception in 1994. It has been accused of violating government laws, environmental and building construction rules and affecting the biodiversity of the region.
Now, by inviting Prime Minister to unveil an idol embroiled in controversy, on Mahasivarathri day, it looks like a well orchestrated plan by this high profile jet-setting godman to legitimise his illegal activities and silence his long time criticisers. It also reflects his gross disregard for the laws of the land and his high handedness and influence in the bureaucracy of the country.
The statue erected in Ikkarai Boluvampatti village, Coimbatore, comes under the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA), where HACA permission is mandatory for any kind of construction. Also, the land in which the construction has been carried out, is classified as wetland, where paddy, sugarcane and plantations are grown. “The construction is illegal because it is in a revenue village and Isha Foundation has not received the approval from the HACA and Directorate of Town and Country Planning (DTCP)”, says Srinivasan Kuppuswamy who initiated a campaign on change.org saying, “Modiji, Please don't attend the Sadhguru Jaggi's Function, Destroyer of tribals & elephants”.
Isha foundation built the statue in violation of Madras High Court order issued by the then Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and justice R Madhavan. I think Modi has fallen into a trap laid by godman Jaggi Vasudev and he is endorsing illegal construction by unveiling Shiva statue. It also has a built up area of 13 lakh square feet of illegal construction in the same villageMohanraj, Environment activist
Echoing Mohanraj’s concerns, a Coimbatore based rights activist Ponniah Chandran says, “Prime Minister’s unveiling of the statue sanctifies all violations of environmental laws. Sangh Parivars statement that he is on a personal spiritual enquiry is superficial and condemnable as he is not coming in a personal capacity as Narendra Modi, but as the Prime Minister of the country”.
The construction of Shiva statue went unchecked despite Isha Foundation being issued a ‘locking and sealing and demolition notice’ by the Deputy Director, Town and Country Planning, Coimbatore region on 24 December, 2012, directing the organisation to demolish all illegal constructions in the campus. A petition before the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), filed recently by Adv M Vetri Selvan, demanding a permanent injunction restraining the organisation from conducting the Mahashivarathri Festival and other cultural extravaganza within the buffer-zone, stated, “As of now, Isha Foundation owns buildings, lake, ornamental gardens, parking bay, playground, etc. to the extent of 4,27,700 sq. mt. and Isha Foundation never obtained permission either from the Hill Area Conservation Authority, nor did it obtain ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the forest department in accordance with law”.
The petition goes on to say, that, “All the above lands are situated in the elephant corridor. Due to the construction of buildings, and the increasing population of the visitors to the Isha Foundation everyday and due to the fact that all the vehicles coming to the Isha Foundation use the forest - connecting - road to the Thanaikandi tribal hamlets, and due to the large number of vehicles, the elephant corridor is obstructed and due to this obstruction, the confrontation between man-animal (elephant) is increasing”.
Prime Minister’s visit amidst protests raised by environmentalists, Association of Tribals and Association of farmers along with political parties like CPIM and CPI also reinforce BJP’s soft corner towards godmen and it turning a blind eye towards their illegal activities.
While environmentalists and government authorities confirm that at least two dozen institutions have come up in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Coimbatore district in the last two decades, only small and less powerful people were punished by the government so far for encroaching on traditional migratory paths of wild elephants. On loosing AICTE accreditation for Indus College of engineering in 2015, citing environmental laws, the lament of the then college Chairman V P Prabhakaran, “We are targeted to save the big fishes in the region”, points towards this double standards of the government.
A pending public interest litigation (PIL) in the Madras HC filed by the Velliangiri Hill Tribal Protection Society citing to demolish the unauthorised construction, points out that the activities of the organisation disrupts the peaceful co-existence of the native tribes (Irular) and the nature. The PIL also adds, that the organisation started constructing the statue 2 years ago, without even submitting an application of approval for the construction. Even the belated application submitted on 19th October, 2016 was only for 300 sq meters while the actual construction is being carried out in 9000 sq meters.
As part of Modi’s visit, 44 acres of land belonging to Tribals have been now taken over by Isha and heavily guarded. How can they do this when the writ petition is pending in the Madras High CourtMohanraj
Meanwhile, an unperturbed Isha Foundation claimed that it had got all necessary permissions. Also, in a blog post Isha Foundation stated, “The accusations laid down in the petitions filed against Isha Foundation in the Madras High Court are frivolous and a compilation of twisted allegations.”