Self-styled yoga guru Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev's Isha Yoga Foundation has been the subject of much controversy for flouting environmental regulations. The foundation, which has constructed several buildings in an ecologically sensitive area near Coimbatore is all set to host Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will inaugurate of a 112-feet statue of Adiyogi during the Hindu festival of Mahashivaratri.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 21, 2017
According to this article by Sruthisagar Yamunan in Scroll, Isha Foundation has been served several notices by the Town and Country Planning Department in 2012 as the site of the construction, Ikkarai Pooluvampatti village near Velliangiri hills (part of the Western Ghats), is notified under the Hill Area Conservation Authority.
The department issued a notice on November 5, 2012, directing the foundation to stop all construction and seek proper permission within three days. On December 21, 2012, another notice was issued to Isha Foundation ordering it to demolish the illegal buildings and restore the area to its original state. This order has still not been implemented, though activists claim there was no judicial stay on it.
There are cases pending before the Madras High Court and the National Green Tribunal against the construction, believed to be spread over 13 lakh square feet, as environment activists allege that wildlife in the area would be impacted.
A public interest litigation (PIL) in the Madras HC filed by the Velliangiri Hill Tribal Protection Society had sought to demolish the unauthorised construction, an application before the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) claimed that it is located in Velliangiri foothills which is a man-animal conflict area, as pointed out by the district forest officer, Coimbatore.
One of the organisations leading the fight, Poovulagin Nanbargal (Friends of the earth) is also a petitioner in the case. Vatriselvan, an advocate with the group, explains the violations that have taken place over the last three years.
He stressed that almost 100 buildings have been constructed without the permission of the Hill Area Conservation Authority and that the government has told the High Court that requisite permission from revenue authorities, forest department, etc have not been taken by the foundation.
A look at the Isha Foundation’s website gives one an insight into the scale of construction at the Isha Yoga Centre. These include large halls, rooms for accommodation, a residential school, a shrine and small swimming pools. In a response to the allegations, the Isha Foundation said that vested interests were trying to stop the mahashivaratri celebrations and that all permissions had been obtained.
Isha has been working continuously to protect the environment through Project GreenHands which was founded under the aegis of Isha Foundation, and has facilitated the planting of over 30 million saplings. Isha has been involved in preserving the ecology of the mountains by planting saplings and cleaning the mountains regularly. In fact, the lands in which Isha Foundation functions had very few trees in the beginning; the trees in and around Isha Yoga Center have been planted by the volunteers of Isha Yoga Center.
Project Green Hands is supported by the Isha Foundation, national and international funders as well as well as CSR initiatives of various companies. According to the website, they have planted 28 million saplings since 2004, including 77,141 saplings in the Velliangiri Hills in partnership with the state’s Forest Department.
The foundation has several high-profile supporters including Kiran Bedi, Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry.
The Wire reported that at a press conference organised by petitioners Poovulagin Nanbargal, Left parties extended support. G Ramakrishnan, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said -
Along with likeminded parties and other groups we will stage a massive demonstration when the prime minister arrives at Coimbatore. We will organise a massive black flag demonstration across Coimbatore to register our protest.
Communist Party of India leader Nallakannu said that the Prime Minister must cancel his visit.
Nallakannu spoke about his visit to the adivasi village near the Isha Foundation and said that the residents explained that the area was an elephant corridor. He also said there were reports of water being taken from the nearby river and a swimming pool was built within the yoga foundation’s premises. Several acres of land have also been taken by the foundation around the Noyyal River, which provides water to Coimbatore. He also alleged that there were several other colleges constructed in the area. Nallakannu said that it would not be correct for the Prime Minister of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to attend the function.
Retired Judge Haripanthaman detailed the violations and said that the High Court had not taken any decision for almost three years despite the various government departments filing counters. He also revealed that Jaggi Vasudev has been accused of murder of his wife Viji alias Vijayalakshmi and a case is pending in Bangalore. This has not been denied by Isha Foundation in their affidavit in court.
Unfortunately, similar protests against Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living show on the banks of the Yamuna river did not deter the Prime Minister from inaugurating the three-day festival.