Isha Foundation Land Grab Case: Tribal Association Urges State Govt to Implement HC Ruling
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Madras High Court ordered the Tamil Nadu government on August 24 to take swift action against the Isha Foundation if proper permission was not obtained to erect the Adiyogi statue and construct buildings at the foot of Velliangiri hill in Coimbatore.
The long-pending case came up for hearing before a first bench comprising Chief Justice S V Gangapurwala and Justice PD Adhikesavalu after six years. It was ruled that if the Isha administration does not submit the documents for obtaining permission within two weeks, the Joint Director of Town and Country Planning in Coimbatore could take action against them.
Shiva, a freelance journalist working among the tribals in the region, told NewsClick. “They have so far not submitted any documents. How can they? Only if they have the documents will they be able to submit. They only have the document for land conversion of the land from wet to dry, but not the HACA approval.”
The Hill Area Committee Approval (HACA) is mandatory for constructing buildings in these regions. A 2018 CAG report found that Isha Foundation had continued construction at its headquarters in an elephant habitat/corridor without obtaining a no objection certificate from the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA).
“Given that the Isha Foundation does not have the relevant documents to submit as directed by the high court, the Foundation’s only hope is to approach the Supreme Court and delay the process. They have powerful people by their side and they will surely try to use that to their favour,” alleged Shanmugam, secretary of Tamil Nadu Tribal People’s Association (TNTA).
The TNTA has urged the government of Tamil Nadu to immediately implement the judgement. ”If it does not take initiative to implement the high court verdict, we will hold protests against the state,” said Shanmugam.
A day after the ruling, on August 25, members of various organisations held a protest in front of the Coimbatore District Collector’s office welcoming the judgement and demanding that the state protect forest land from the Isha Foundation and ensure safety of tribal people’s livelihoods.
‘ISHA FOUNDATION PLANS TO HOLD PROTEST’
Following the Madras High Court ruling, Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation has allegedly planned to hold a protest against P Muthammal, the Adivasi leader who filed a public interest litigation claiming land grab. She is the president of Velliangiri Hill Conservation Society and the Coimbatore district treasurer of the TNTA.
Shanmugam said “I got the information that the Isha centre people are going to hold a protest condemning Muthammal and the TNTA. I want to mention that such a protest would go against the high court verdict.”
He added “In the past, we have received legal notices from the Isha Foundation threatening us that cases will be filed against us for statements released by our organisation. But that has not stopped us from taking up crucial issues.”
When NewsClick approached the Isha Foundation, its representatives denied having knowledge of such a PIL or ruling.
The petition filed by Muthammal in 2017 had appealed that no building should be constructed in the respective area without permission, there should be a ban on holding programmes in the forest areas, and that alleged encroachment of forest areas by Isha Foundation should be removed.
“A statue of Adiyogi erected at the Isha Yoga Center at the Velliangiri foothills affects the livelihood of the hill dwellers of Coimbatore district and disturbs the natural life patterns of wild animals including elephants,” read the petition.
“Currently, various commercial buildings are constructed in the area around the statue and several programmes are held in the forest areas” it said.
“The district Collector gave permission only to classify lands under certain survey numbers. But constructions have illegally been erected without obtaining any permission,” it further read.
R Rajaguru, Joint Director of Town and Country Planning Department, submitted a report with the court, which said “of the 20.805 hectares of land under the control of Isha Yoga Centre, 15.53 hectares is Nanjai (wet) land the rest is Punjai (dry) land. It also includes government common lands.”
“Our office does not hold any document stating permission was granted for the Adiyogi statue and other constructions. Neither does the Ikarai Poluvampatti village panchayat office hold any such documents. There are no documents for clearance certificates from the district Collector, pollution control board and fire department,” he said.
HARM TO ECOSYSTEM
The Tamil Nadu based environmental organisation Poovulagin Nanbargal has been raising concerns about Isha Foundation allegedly encroaching on the forest land and the harm it creates to the ecosystem.
“Isha agreed that prior environmental clearance was not taken for the foundation. Only in 2014, with the new law that can claim exemption for educational institutes, did the foundation skip environmental clearance. Such is the fraudulent activity,” said the NGO’s activist Vetri Selvan in an interview with Nakheeran.
“There is a sewerage plant inside, so they need clearance from the pollution control board. It is not taken” he claimed.
“As per the Environmental Protection Act rules, they have fixed decibels for residential areas, commercial areas and industrial areas. There is no categorisation for forest area, because it is a no-sound zone, just like hospital zone. No artificial sounds are allowed to be produced there. Organising events with sound systems is a basic violation,” he argued.
“During Diwali, we see how cats, dogs and cows panic while listening to the loud sound; the same happens in the forests with wild animals,” he added.
“There is also light pollution. There are night-time birds, they hunt for food only at night, they depend on darkness. Such animals suffer because of the light pollution,” he said.
There have also been reported suspicious activities surrounding the centre in Vellaiangiri. “Unfortunately there is no progress in those cases,” said Shanmugam.
“The yoga centre is an island, it is like a protected area. It is not like other temples, where we can just walk in. Although some of the tribal people do sanitary work there, they are provided only limited access to the premises,” he added.
As of now, Isha Foundation has erected 96 structures over the 150-acre land in the centre located in Ikkarai Poluvampatti village in Perur Taluk, Coimbatore, according to reports.
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