The Big Story: Spiritual exercises
On February 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took time off from his busy schedule of campaigning in Uttar Pradesh to visit Coimbatore. Disregarding protests that environment and building norms had been violated, Modi unveiled a 122-feet statue of Adiyogi, a form of Shiva, built by spiritual leader Jagggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation.
Ahead of the event, activists in Tamil Nadu alleged that the foundation had flouted environment norms and had evaded action on a demolition notice issued by the state government in 2012. On Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu government declared before the Madras High Court that the statue had not been granted necessary clearances.
The Isha Yoga Centre was built near the pristine Western Ghats in Villiangiri in Coimbatore, disrupting the local ecosystem and elephant corridors. The structures, spread across thousands of square feet, blocked the way of large animals and forced them to move through farms, resulting in frequent confrontations with villagers. By participating in the inauguration, Modi appears to have given the violations legitimacy in the public eye.
Unfortunately, violations of this sort are becoming more frequent. Last year, the National Green Tribunal slapped a fine of Rs 5 crore on the Art of Living Foundation run by Sri Sri Sri Ravishankar for damaging the floodplains of Yamuna river in Delhi during a culture festival.
These violations also point to the slack manner in which governments enforce environment laws and strongly resist environmental regulations. For example, Tamil Nadu was one of the states that vehemently opposed the implementation of Kasturirangan committee report on controlling development in the Western Ghats, which would have encompassed the region in which Isha Foundation built the huge statue.
The Tamil Nadu government needs to answer the question of why it allowed the statue to be inaugurated even though it knew, as it admitted before the Madras High Court on Wednesday, that the construction did not have the requisite clearances. Will it punish officials who turned a blind eye to this violation?
While freedom of religion is an important right enshrined in the Constitution, that freedom does not provide the right to practise religion at the cost of environment. After all, protecting the environment is essential for safeguarding the more important right to life.
The Big Scroll
- In this piece, Sruthisagar Yamunan details the violations Isha Foundation is alleged to have committed.
- Niti Ayog member Bibek Debroy writes on why technology should be used to further decentralise governance and planning.
- In The Hindu, Srinivasan Ramani tells you why the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has not ended the politics of patronage in Tamil Nadu.
- In the Mint, Biju Dominic says the government cannot be expected to solve every problem in society, especially the ones in the private sphere.
Villlagers in Neduvasal in Tamil Nadu are fighting against a hydrocarbon extraction project which they fear will destroy their fields, reports Vinita Govindarajan.
“Ever since the villagers heard the news that Neduvasal would be one of the sites for extracting hydrocarbons, they have been gripped by the fear of losing their land, their crops and their livelihood. They had received no official information about the project and have only seen the news reports.
‘With so much care, we have grown crops on our soil for so many years,’ said Senthil Kumar, a farmer who owns 15 acres of land near Neduvasal. ‘We are scared all of this will be wiped away. We are scared that our children will not have means to survive such damage.’”