The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered the Tamil Nadu government and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to submit a report on the status of a lock and seal order against the Isha Foundation on Thursday. In December 2013, the Department of Town and Country Planning (DTCP) informed the Madras High Court of the lock and seal order issued to the foundation. The foundation has reportedly made close to 13 lakh square feet of illegal constructions and the 112-feet-tall Adiyogi statue at the foothills of the Velliangiri hills. The hill region mostly comprised wetlands which are known for their rich biodiversity and the elephant corridor.
Given the political influence of Jaggi Vasudev, the founder of the Isha Foundation, State and Union Governments are highly unlikely to initiate any action in the matter.
VIOLATION OF ENVIRONMENT ACTS
The foundation has been known for flouting norms on multiple occasions. The government of Tamil Nadu had itself issued notice for the demolition of illegal construction in the area on many instances. However, its instructions have not been heeded to and the foundation continues to expand.
Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman told NewsClick that “all the constructions of the foundation are unlicensed. They have not obtained any sanctions from any of the concerned authorities.” Jayaraman added that the present NGT order is based on the DTCP’s lock-and-seal order “but the foundation has violated many other important Acts. The Environment Protection Act is also being violated. The Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, mandates obtaining clearance before construction of structures in such areas. The foundation has not even applied for clearance for the construction as per the act,” he added.
NO APPLICATION FOR EIA
The 112-feet-tall statue was constructed without any permission from competent authority. The State Government has also clarified that the statue was constructed without permission. “The construction of the Adiyogi statue requires consent from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board as per the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act as well as the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. But the foundation has not obtained permission for the construction of the statue”, added Jayaraman,
The Velliangiri hill is home to rich biodiversity and is an elephant corridor. The construction of buildings and the statue had severely disrupted the movement of elephants in the region and damaged biodiversity. The Adiyogi statue was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2017.
LOCK AND SEAL ORDER IN 2012
The lock and seal and demolition notice issued by the DTCP has not been acted upon since 2012 due to unknown reasons. The DTCP issued the notice to Isha Foundation and other educational institutions citing disregard to The Hill Area Construction Authority. In 2013, the DTCP informed the Madras High Court of the particular order in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Velliangiri Tribal Protection Society. The government of Tamil Nadu too had submitted that the foundation had not obtained any permission for the construction of the statue. The foundation continues to claim that it is committed to the protection of the environment in light of projects like massive tree plantation campaigns. Its founder has also spoken volumes on protecting and preserving the environment while advocating the river-linking project as well.
The influence of the Isha Foundation spreads beyond the administrative and political dispensation with many dignitaries part of a list of participants to its annual Mahasivarathri event. The President of India was the chief guest for the gala event in 2019 while his deputy was also part of the event in 2020. Various controversies including encroachment of tribals’ land looms over the foundation. However, its influence only continues to grow across various spectra, giving high immunity to the foundation in spite of repeated violations.